The Charitable Bona Fides of Donald Trump

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February 7, 2012; Source: Washington Times | Donald Trump toyed with a Republican presidential run, then hinted at becoming a third-party candidate, then played political footsie with Newt Gingrich, and then finally endorsed Mitt Romney to be the Republican standard-bearer in November. But despite Trump’s characteristic bombast, one never hears much or anything about his charitable or philanthropic giving. During his putative campaign run, while he demanded disclosure of President Obama’s birth certificate and college records, Trump himself never disclosed his tax return, though he promised to do so when President Obama authorized the release of his birth certificate, so we don’t know exactly how much of “the Donald’s” taxable income was reduced by charitable deductions. 

But we do know what the Trump Foundation does and where it gets its money. The Smoking Gun calls Trump a “miserly billionaire,” noting that the foundation’s 2010 990 shows that he has donated just $675,000 to his foundation in the past five years,including nothing in the past two years.  In fact, the interesting aspect of the Trump Foundation is that its most significant source of contributions hasn’t been Trump, but Vince McMahon of Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Over the years, Trump has hosted WWE WrestleMania events at his properties in Atlantic City. He has also participated in WrestleMania events (such as appearing in the corner of a wrestler whose opponent had McMahon in his corner in a hair vs. hair event) and story lines (such as purportedly buying WWE Raw from McMahon). The $5 million in donations from WWE to the Trump Foundation is by far its largest source of income and rumored to be a tax-avoiding payment from McMahon to Trump for Trump’s involvement in a 2006 WrestleMania event. Out of a little more than $1 million in grants in 2010, the foundation gave $110,000 to the American Heart Association, $100,000 to the American Red Cross and that same amount to his son Eric’s foundation.  

We looked at a couple of the previous years’ 990PFs for the Donald J. Trump Foundation just to check the pattern spotted by the Smoking Gun. In 2009, the largest donation by far was $1 million from WWE. No donations were listed from Trump himself. Out of total grant making of $926,750, the foundation’s six-figure grants went to the Police Athletic League, the Tiger Woods Foundation, the William F. Clinton Foundation, New York Presbyterian Hospital, and the Arnold Palmer Medical Center Foundation. In 2008, the largest donations to the foundation were $250,000 from the Willard TC Johnson Foundation and $150,000 from the Celebrity Fight Night Foundation; Trump was listed as donating $30,000 to his foundation. Its only six-figure grant that year (out of $731,000 in total grants) was $107,000 to the Gucci Foundation. 

This Washington Times article by “the Donald” extols Romney’s Trump-like virtues as a tough-minded businessman and suggests Romney is best suited to do battle with China, Trump’s bête noire that he says is “cleaning America’s clock.” With his, Trump adds, “Mitt Romney does have his shortcomings: He’s never built a Mitt Romney Tower in New York City or 12 Mitt Romney championship golf courses. Not everyone can be a Donald Trump.”

What Trump didn’t add is that Romney, as the NPQ Newswire has detailed, uses a significant portion of his wealth for charitable and religious contributions. Whether one likes Romney’s choices or not, there’s no denying that he tithes to his religion and gives millions to public charities. It would appear that Donald Trump the businessman might have a little to learn from Mitt Romney the businessman philanthropist. —Rick Cohen