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Bob Sparks: Is Team Bondi ready for battle?

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Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is reluctantly moving onstage in the 2016 presidential campaign. With the national polls tightening between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, her advocates are looking for ways to change the narrative.

Who can blame them? With the drip, drip, drip of damaging revelations surrounding the email investigation and foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation, they need to spin the story that Trump and his foundation also behave badly.

Trump University is that opportunity. The Clinton side and publications such as the Washington Post, are trying to sow the seeds of a story that Bondi was, in effect, bribed by a $25,000 contribution from Trump’s foundation.

Team Clinton has a high mountain to climb. First, they are hawking a case that Trump gave Bondi the donation for her 2014 re-election in exchange for not investigating Trump University.

Another reason this is gaining more traction is the $2,500 fine paid to the IRS by the foundation. Political contributions from charitable foundations are not permitted.

Bondi readily admits she solicited the donation. Trump also hosted a fundraiser at his Mar-a-Lago mansion in South Florida on March 14, 2014. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, GOP bigwigs, and plenty of lobbyists helped bring in the cash $3,000 at a time.

The question is simple. Did Bondi refuse to investigate Trump U in return for a donation and a fundraiser?

This is how things work in the attorney general’s office: The office takes in complaints or fields calls on the fraud hotline. The appropriate internal entity is notified.

If a sufficient number of complaints emerge, attorneys and staff do a preliminary investigation to determine if a more comprehensive investigation is required. It is at that point the deputy attorney general or attorney general often become involved.

What constitutes a “sufficient number?” That is hard to define, but in this case how many complaints were there?

By October 2013, Bondi’s office had received one complaint. Initiating a formal investigation on one complaint is not standard operating procedure. A few others were reported in 2008, two years prior to her election.

But there was a Floridian who was certain he had been defrauded. Was there a way for him to seek justice if he was truly wronged?

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued Trump University for $40 million on August 24, 2013. Florida declined to join the suit, but said at the time the New York case would provide restitution to the Florida complainant if the plaintiffs prevailed in court.

A call to the AG’s press office to discuss these facts was not returned.

The campaign contribution came three days before the announcement Florida would not join the New York suit. The optics do not look good, but also do not prove wrongdoing. Which is why, if it were me, I would be making the case about the one complaint (at the time) and the fact the New York case is approaching its trial date.

It is often a good idea to return calls to someone who has some basic questions and understands the workings of the attorney general’s office. That is the better course, instead of having someone call the publisher inquiring what I’m up to.

Yes, I found the information with an extra hour or so of research.

Meanwhile, the calls for special prosecutors and comparisons to the email and Clinton Foundation mess will continue for the foreseeable future.

Good luck with that.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at

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