Ron Paul aide files complaint over Donald Trump's private jet
By MAGGIE HABERMAN | 3/14/11 1:29 PM EDT
Donald Trump versus Ron Paul, round two.
The back-and-forth between Trump and Paul has prompted a booster of the Texas congressman filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against the billionaire potential 2012 hopeful.
The complaint, first reported by The Daily Beast, accuses Trump of violating election laws because an adviser, Michael Cohen, used the developer's personal jet to travel to Iowa to measure support for a campaign. Cohen, who co-founded a draft committee to get Trump in the race, said he wasn't making the trip on Trump's behalf and that another draft movement founder financed it.
The Daily Beast report put the cost of the trip at about $125,000 and noted that Cohen used a Trump organization email address to alert reporters about it. POLITICO's Ben Smith raised questions about the trip at the time it took place, with the plane's blazing "Trump" logo visible at the Des Moines airport. [See also: The campaign Kabuki phase]
The complaint was filed, the report said, by Ron Paulite Shawn Michael Thompson. Thompson's lawyer described him as an active tea party member who also organized for Paul in Florida in 2008.
"Donald Trump is by his own admission testing the waters for election to the presidency," the complaint says, according to the Beast, "and he is... a de facto candidate for the Republican nomination. He has not filed or registered with the Commission any exploratory committee [commonly called a Testing the Waters committee] or principal campaign committee, or statement of candidacy on FEC Form 1-or any other filing whatsoever with the FEC. A testing the waters committee requires adherence to contribution and limits and prohibits corporate contributions."
It goes on: "Cohen flew aboard Trump's private 727 jet airplane to campaign for Trump in Iowa...The cost for the trip was approximately $125,000, and Cohen has stated in the press that this was paid for by...Rahr. A contribution in excess of $2,500 to any candidate for federal office or to a ‘testing the waters' committee is a violation on the part of the donor and of the recipient. Because Trump is in fact a candidate, this expenditure by Rahr was a violation."
The complaint doesn't stop there. Addressing Cohen's position as counsel to Trump, it states: "The provision of free legal services to a candidate or a candidate's committee constitutes an in-kind contribution. Cohen is a lawyer and as such he has provided legal advice to Trump [and] as such is in violation...Because his salary is paid by The [Trump] Organization...the Organization is making an unreported (and thus illegal) contribution to Trump's candidacy. It is simply not plausible that Cohen provides services after-hours and without use of his office and telephone at the Trump Organization."
The complaint also noted that Trump used the word "we" to discuss ShouldTrumpRun.com on Rush Limbaugh's radio show on March 1.
"By use of the word ‘formed' he referred not to a website, but to an entity...(that) has not registered with the Commission as required [by law] and is thus in violation."
FEC complaints generally take a long time to bear fruit, but it gives fodder to further stories about Trump's activities and a push for scrutiny as he follows his self-stated timeline of a June decision.
FEC officials didn't immediately comment. Cohen waved off the complaint.
"The allegations are completely unfounded," he told POLITICO. "Anyone can file a complaint or an inquiry with the FEC. If an inquiry is sent I'm certain it'll be handled appropriately. I suspect the Ron Paul supporter is doing this in order to get his candidate some free publicity. I continue to assert that ShouldTrumpRun.com is totally independent of Mr. Trump, I am not providing any free political advise to Mr. Trump — it's not my field of expertise - and the trip was paid for by Stewart Rahr the assist his candidate."