How Donald Trump Could Woo Delegates With His 'Toys'

The Federal Election Commission’s rules may leave some wiggle room.

ByABC News
April 18, 2016, 4:05 PM

— -- Though Donald Trump boasted this weekend that he could win delegates' support by wining and dining them with his great "toys," doing so wouldn't necessarily be legal.

The comment came during an event this weekend when Trump, who is currently leading the Republican presidential pack but is facing a delegate challenge by his rival Sen. Ted Cruz, blasted the election system for being "crooked."

"It’s a corrupt and crooked system.... Look, nobody has better toys than I do. I can put [the delegates] in the best planes and bring them to the best resorts anywhere in the world. Doral, Mar-a Lago. I can put them in the best places in the world," Trump said on Sunday, referencing a golf resort and a private club he owns in Florida.

"You’re basically saying, 'Delegate, listen: We’re gonna send you to Mar-a-Lago on a Boeing 757. You’re going to use the spa, you’re going to do this, you’re going to do that. We want your vote.' That’s a corrupt system," he continued. Trump reiterated multiple times that he has no plans to take advantage of the Republican delegate system.

But, hypothetically speaking, is Trump really allowed to woo delegates with the all-expenses-paid trips he described?

What the Rules Say

The rules laid out by the Federal Election Commission pertaining to what can and can't be spent on delegates don’t address every potential scenario.

The FEC cannot specifically comment on hypotheticals posed by presidential candidates, a spokeswoman told ABC News today, but its rules set some general benchmarks.

Traditionally, FEC rules focus on the cost of delegates’ travel to and from the conventions as well as expenses at the conventions themselves. But there are no specific rules limiting these expenses.

The FEC has said that delegates may not accept any contributions from sources prohibited from making contributions in connection with federal elections, including corporations, labor organizations, foreign nationals or businesses, and federal government contractors. But presidential candidates are not specifically barred from paying for delegates' convention expenses, according to the FEC's rules.

There are more rules that come into play when the delegates in question are government officials. Certain government workers, like members of Congress or others, have ethics rules written into their job description.

Giving money or gifts in exchange for votes could also violate state bribery laws, which vary across the country.

However, gifts could theoretically be allowed if the candidate tells the delegate that they should not sway his/her vote. There’s a “vast lack of authority on what the parameters are,” election law expert Kenneth Gross told ABC News.

Right now, the Republican National Committee has no rules on gift-giving or power brokering to delegates, but the Rules Committee could still write some.

Could Trump's Trips Happen?

According to Larry Noble, who works for the Campaign Legal Center -- a non-partisan, non-profit dedicated to the enforcement of campaign finance laws -- and previously served as the general counsel for the FEC, there's a chance that a version of the trips that Trump described could be legally allowed.

"The part about spending his own personal money to wine and dine the delegate, that may very well be legal under the federal election laws," Noble told ABC News.

If the trips and a stay at Mar-a-Lago were described as an opportunity to meet with the candidate without explicitly saying that it was in exchange for the delegate's vote, they could hypothetically happen without repercussion, according to Noble.

"If Trump wanted to take them on trips on his own, out of his own pocket and not out of the company or his campaign, he may be able to pay for the trips that he's talking about, but I underscore 'may,'" Noble said.

Donald Trump, billionaire real estate developer, left, and his wife Melania Trump stand for a photograph at the Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., U.S.,Feb. 19, 2011.
Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

But if Trump said he were paying for the trips in exchange for the delegate's vote, then the trips could be seen as vote buying.

"When he says 'We want your vote, I'm going to take you on this trip if you vote for me' ... then he may be involved in vote buying," Noble said.

Do Such Trips Happen?

Aside from Trump's description of the hypothetical trips to Florida, it's unclear whether such lavish attempts to seek the favor of delegates really occur.

"As far as I know, we haven't had many situations where there have been that type of attempts to win delegates through taking them on expensive vacations, paying for them to stay at expensive resorts," Noble said.

He added: "We haven't seen a lot of that so it's ironic that he's complaining about it when he's the only one suggesting doing it."

Even if candidates did pay for such trips, they would be easy to hide from those in charge of regulating campaign finance spending, according to Noble. Individual delegates do not have to report gifts or money they receive from candidates, unless they are acting as a group or delegate committee.

"These rules are enforced by the Federal Election Commission, which means that they're probably not going to be enforced," Noble said. A spokeswoman for the FEC had no comment.