Trump was asked about something he said in a previous interview: “When you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do.”
“You’d better believe it,” Trump said. “If I ask them, if I need them, you know, most of the people on this stage I’ve given to, just so you understand, a lot of money.”
The only complaints came from two candidates who yelled that they had received no Trump money. As Trump continued to talk, he was interrupted by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., complaining that Trump instead gave campaign contributions to Rubio’s Democratic opponent.
“I hope you will give to me,” said Gov. John Kasich of Ohio.
“Sounds good. Sounds good to me, governor,” said Trump.
Without missing a beat, the real estate tycoon continued: “I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them, and they are there for me.” He added, “And that’s a broken system.”
Repeatedly asked what he got in return for his donations, Trump said: “With Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding. You know why? She didn’t have a choice because I gave. I gave to a foundation that, frankly, that foundation is supposed to do good.”
Though it surely wasn’t his intention, Trump was illustrating the key problem with the current campaign finance system. Campaign contributions are legally considered bribes only when there is an explicit quid-pro-quo. But as Trump explained, giving money to politicians bought him access and relationships, which he could leverage down the road in the form of favors. Such conflicts of interest are inherent in privately funded election systems.