Last week, NPQ reported on Donald Trump’s press conference announcing the 41 nonprofit organizations that received $5.6 million pledged in January. We also took a look at the list of charities to assess the months of vetting time blamed for the four months of delays in disbursing a significant portion of the money.
Liberty House received its $100,000 gift back in February. Trump’s first, partial list of beneficiaries described their mission and programs (identifying information we wish had been given about all 41 nonprofits as part of Trump’s press conference last week) using text from the nonprofit’s website:
For more than a decade, Liberty House in Manchester, NH has been providing a safe, supportive, substance-free housing community for American veterans transitioning out of homelessness. Since opening our doors in 2004, our dedicated team of staff and volunteers has helped more than 200 homeless veterans rejoin their communities and regain fulfilling, independent lives.
Keith Howard, Liberty House’s executive director, told NPQ that his organization came to Trump’s attention through New Hampshire State Representative Al Baldasaro, a veteran and Trump supporter who participated in Trump’s caustic press conference last week announcing the $5.6 million in gifts. Based on Baldasaro’s recommendation, Howard said, “Col. Stuart Jolly from Mr. Trump’s foundation called me. He asked only two questions and the call took less than two minutes. A few days later, we get a check for $100,000.” The questions? Would your organization accept a Trump gift? What is your nonprofit’s overhead percentage? To his credit, Howard did his own due diligence to confirm that Col. Jolly was real and that the offer of support was legitimate.
Howard stresses that he and his organization are grateful for Trump’s support. “It was a windfall; a great act of generosity.” However, Howard also says there were a couple of unusual circumstances associated with the gift.
First, Trump’s people wanted Howard to participate in an award ceremony at a Trump rally. Howard checked with the state attorney general’s office to be sure the award wouldn’t jeopardize the nonprofit’s charitable status. Howard was told the charity should not participate. When he told Trump’s people this, Howard said, “They said they had their own lawyers who insisted it would be OK. My thought was that the New Hampshire AG would be making the decision whether to investigate, so I should follow their advice.”
Howard saw the oversized award check and noted the payor was identified as the Donald J. Trump Foundation. However, the actual check Liberty House received was from the Stuart J. Rahr Foundation, whose webpage features a photo of Rahr with Donald and Melania Trump, former President Bill Clinton, and Michael Milken. The foundation’s GuideStar report includes Form 990 information showing assets of about $107 million and annual gifts of about $16.5 million. Rahr is depicted on the Forbes website as a 70-year-old billionaire who made his fortune as a “drug distributor”; he sold his company in 2010 for $1.3 billion and, calling himself “Stewie Rah Rah No. 1 King of All Fun,” has lived the high life ever since.
Howard isn’t so concerned about the publicity associated with the gift or who actually wrote the check, but “I worry that some of the small groups might suffer from the downside of spending their sudden windfall right away.”
Liberty House took the entire $100,000 and put it into a “rainy day fund” they already maintained. The Trump/Rahr gift was not included in the current budget and will remain unspent until the right need presents itself, Howard said. Harsh lessons and good advice are two other reasons cited by Howard for the organization’s risk management and financial prudence. “We’re fortunate to have a group of experienced and knowledgeable advisors to help us,” he said. Also, Liberty House had a standing relationship with the attorney general’s office. “We worked with them proactively when we discovered a $70,000 internal theft several years ago.”
Liberty House’s experience confirms many things we already knew or suspected about at least some of Trump’s donations to veterans’ charities. The vetting of Liberty House was so brief as to be almost nonexistent, at least as far as we can see; the Trump campaign wanted the award to be part of a political event; the money donated to Liberty House was not only not Trump’s, it never even passed through Trump’s foundation. But, on the other hand, this veteran’s group handled itself with sovereign dignity and financial wisdom when faced with a highly charged and politicized situation and this will likely serve them well with other donors.
We hope others from the list of 41 will come forward to discuss their experiences with receiving and using the gifts directed to them through the efforts of Donald Trump in his presidential campaign.