If Trump’s Charity Reflects the Man…

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August 2, 2015; PBS NewsHour, “The Rundown”

After the Associated Press reviewed Donald Trump’s financial records and other government filings, it has come to the following conclusions about his claims to charitable contributions over the past five years:

  • They may be overstated.
  • Even if they were accurate, they’re relatively chintzy.
  • They’re often connected to some kind of celebrity.
  • In some cases, Trump himself is the primary beneficiary.

Though there is little documentation for it, Trump claims to have over the past five years given $102 million worth of cash and land to charity. But those gifts have not been made through the Donald J. Trump foundation, at least not since 2008. The only grants made through the foundation have been made because of contributions from others.

The AP acknowledges that Trump may be making tons of anonymous gifts, but that is hard to know since he has not yet released his tax returns. A “partial list of donations” provided by Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks essentially jibes with the Trump foundation’s gifts. AP suggests this may mean Trump is counting charitable giving by others through his foundation as part of his total.

Trump did not respond to an inquiry about donations he personally gave. He did, however, have something more general to say about his generosity. “I give to hundreds of charities and people in need of help,” Trump said to AP in an emailed response. “It is one of the things I most like doing and one of the great reasons to have made a lot of money.”

However, Trump’s cash donations make up only approximately ten percent of what he claims to have given, with land donations making up the difference. The AP suggests these donations may end up benefiting Trump in significant ways. One such deal had Trump promising he would never develop luxury homes on the driving range of the Trump National Golf Course in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, thus claiming an easement which will provide Trump with a major tax deduction. Of course, writes AP, “City planning documents indicate Trump had no plans to use the land for anything other but a driving range—which he will continue to do under the terms of the easement.”

Dean Zerbe, a tax attorney for Alliant Group of Houston who previously headed an investigation into easement write-offs for the Senate Finance Committee, comments, “It’s shocking how much you see in the way of golf easements. […] Are we comfortable that this is something we want to subsidize with tax policy?

Trump’s politics are no more consistent in his giving than anywhere else. He has donated both to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, a decidedly anti-gay organization. And his love of celebrity is just as evident in donations to the Ronald Reagan Foundation, the Clinton Foundation, and charities associated with Joe Torre, Larry King, and Arnold Palmer. Among his donations are $10,000 to Jenny McCarthy’s Generation Rescue, which champions the theory that vaccines cause autism, and $1,000 to the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project cofounded by Tom Cruise, which offered free Scientology-based cleansing to 9/11 first responders.—Ruth McCambridge