-- It’s no secret that Donald Trump is rich. And it's no surprise that money influences politics.
But few political candidates -- let alone presidential contenders -- speak about it with as much candor and openness as Donald Trump.
Over the course of his campaign so far, Trump has unashamedly made a string of under-the-radar comments about using political donations to call in favors with politicians while they are in office.
“I will tell you that our system is broken,” Trump said on stage in Thursday's GOP candidates' debate. “I gave to many people before this -- before two months ago 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. They are there for me. That's a broken system.”
Trump has snatched more headlines for his comments on illegal immigrants and Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly, but he’s also gone as far as to call fellow GOP candidates “puppets” of Republican mega-donors David and Charles Koch.
I wish good luck to all of the Republican candidates that traveled to California to beg for money etc. from the Koch Brothers. Puppets? — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 2, 2015
He says his fortune has enabled him to run for the presidency without having to court donors, and it’s led to the Donald offering some pretty poignant critiques of the American campaign finance system. And the comments shed some light on what many Americans suspect about the goals of big money donors in the political sphere.
"This is what's wrong," Rand Paul interrupted early in the first debate. "[Trump] buys and sells politicians of all stripes."
“He [Bush] raises $100 million, so what does $100 million mean? $100 million means he's doing favors for so many people, it means lobbyists, it means special interests, it means donors," Trump said in New Hampshire last month. "Who knows it better than me? I give to everybody. They do whatever I want. It's true."
Many of Hillary’s donors are the same donors as Jeb Bush’s—all rich, will have total control—know them well. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2015
"I see the donors all over the place. I know them," he said on "Meet the Press" last Sunday. "And I know they don't give because they happen to be nice people."
And Trump gave the public a taste of how far donations can go in terms of personal favors during the first Republican presidential debate in Cleveland last week, targeting Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
“For Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding,” he said. “You know why? She had no choice because I gave to a foundation that frankly that foundation is supposed to do good.”
The Clinton campaign, on the other hand, says she attended the wedding because she thought Trump wanted her to be there.
“So, what am I going to do, contribute to Republicans?” Trump asked. “Am I going to contribute to, I mean, one thing, I’m not stupid. Am I going to contribute to a Republican for my whole life when they get, they run against some Democrat? And the most they can get is one percent of the vote.”
I really like the Koch Brothers (members of my P.B. Club), but I don't want their money or anything else from them. Cannot influence Trump! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2015
But that life is behind him, Trump said. On the campaign trail, the real estate mogul has consistently repeated that he will not be bought by any lobbyists or special interest group.
As he said in Iowa in July: “I don’t need your money, I never took any of your money, you have no control, bye bye.”