This is a highly misleading article, leaving the reader with impressions of outright falsities. 1
That money from Trump's campaign found its way in 2021 (after the campaign ended) to Trump-owned businesses is not contested. In fact, it's right there in the FEC filings, as the notable claim from the Independent says. These filings are public information. This wasn't some big scoop, a whistleblow, or whatever. Heck, it's not really notable by itself, but the Independent's message says a lot more.
The message the Independent gives misleads when
- They say "Donald Trump moved [money] ... into his own private business accounts" rather than "Trump campaign successors made payments to Trump-owned businesses"
- They stress "a month after he left office" without regard to the fact that all campaigns end and sometimes have both bills and cash left over, which can legally be used to create successor political corporations
- They call it by its correct name, "Make America Great Again PAC", and neglect entirely that this is a legal successor to the Trump campaign
- They dismiss out-of-hand that the Trump-owned payees provided services for PAC campaign efforts
Your question says "The way this is written, it sounds like he embezzled funds." It's no coincidence that's the impression you get from the article. The Independent is paltering with facts to fabricate truth.
When federal campaigns end, they are often left with debts and sometimes cash. They have broad options and only slight limitations afterward.
There's really only one basic prohibition:
Candidates can't use [surplus cash from a terminated campaign] for personal expenses, like mortgage payments, groceries, clothing purchases or vacations. But there are a lot of other options, both within politics and outside of it. The Conversation
What they can do with it is very permissive. It can be used "for any other lawful purpose" outside personal uses.
The first thing terminated campaigns need to do is pay their outstanding bills. A terminated campaign doesn't mean you're off the hook for the money you borrowed, or the lease you signed. Some poor failed candidates are personally on the hook for their unpaid campaign debts years later. When there's political momentum and cash left over, that's when they can do interesting things.
The simplest thing to do with extra campaign cash is to just hang on to it. They can literally just let it sit in the bank, or they can save it for another campaign, even for another position. Many failed presidential hopefuls with cash left over are already holding seat as Governor or Senator. They can simply transfer the money to their re-election campaign there.
They can create their own committee (called a PAC or leadership PAC) and fund it with their campaign left-overs. There's some criticism that PACs are just a loophole (examples: 1 2 3), but assessing that is outside this question's and site's purview. The point is they are legal, and they do have limitations on personal expenses.
They can also give surplus cash away. Through state and local party committees they can give limitlessly to other candidates. They can give limitedly directly to federal candidates, and sometimes locally depending on local laws. And when their heart is made of gold, they can give it to charity.
Trump's campaign apparently chose to "make a PAC" (he made several PACs actually). A political action committee is a generic political entity that can collect political donations for generic purposes. They pool donations so they can give directly to campaigns or indirectly influence elections (eg. advertising). Read Investopedia for more on PACs.
The fact that there's a lot of opportunity to misuse donations is exactly why campaigns must make FEC filings. So long as the campaign needs to do anything with money, including just pay the debts, they still have to file with the FEC. In fact, failed campaigns often get into hot water when the donations run dry and they stop paying the guy who makes the filings.
That the Trump campaign "continues" in some form, and still collects donations, is neither illegal, nor unusual. All campaigns continue at least for a little while to at least close out debts before they legally dissolve. More successful campaigns with a lot of political momentum are perfectly positioned to create PACs, so they often do.
The overly personalized frame, "moved" in place of "made payments to", and the odd phrase "personal business accounts" is equivocation.
The Make America Great Again PAC and some other political entities made payments for explicit services to Trump-owned businesses. This is what the FEC filing shows, which is submitted under penalty of perjury. If this isn't true, they're in deep shit (pardon my French). The FEC is like the IRS for campaigns, and further, money in and out of federal campaigns must be publicly declared through the FEC filings. One might think it uncouth, or unethical, but that's opinion which is not in this site's purview to address. The point of this section is that Independent article messaging pushes you toward an "illegal" conclusion, which is glaringly false. It is fair to mention however that the Trump Foundation, the charitable non-profit of Trump's businesses, has fallen into hot water for similar "self-dealing" fouls, but charities do have much stronger rules and the examples given could be misappropriation (mistakes), which are not technically fraudulent.
These Trump-owned businesses pre-date Trump's political career and have legitimate products/services and profits.
This is the most sinister part of this article. After overly personalizing the actions taken, the Independent then highlights the money's not supposed to be used for personal things. Well, it wasn't, at least according to the FEC filing.
When the Independent says "Money donated to PACs is meant to be spent solely on campaign efforts", they seem to forget that PACs rent spaces, purchase food for employees, and otherwise have expenses that are quite similar to any other corporation. After all, even something as simple as holding your hand out for the donations still costs some money to keep running. They also seem to want to hide the scope of the payments. The post-Trump campaign funds exceed $100 million cash dollars. The expenses to the Trump-owned businesses is about 1% of that. On top of this, the million or so dollars paid to Trump-owned business is about 0.25% of what these businesses make in a year 2. Trump's political efforts have generated heaps of money more for their expressed purpose, and Trump's private enterprises are far more profitable to him personally. It doesn't even pass the sniff test that this is an instance of Trump stealing campaign donation money. There's too much to lose and too little to gain by committing some frivolous fraud.
- We have a name for that.
- "None of this cash should mean much to the former president, whose businesses will likely generate well over $450 million in revenue this year " Forbes