April 10, 2016; Washington Post
We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t attempt to dispel some of the pageantry and wonder around Donald Trump, the self-reported great philanthropist of our time. Our interest is focused on his claims of big philanthropy, which we have commented on several times before, including following his veterans’ fundraiser back in January. Trump has claimed from the beginning that he has donated more than $102 million from 2010 through 2014; however, an analysis by the Washington Post illustrates a different story. After examining 94 pages provided by the Trump campaign of his contributions, which list 4,844 gifts to charities, business and individuals, there is one clear omission: personal contributions from Trump.
Allen Weisselberg, a Trump aide and the treasurer and CFO of the Trump Organization, confirmed that none of the donations listed were actual cash gifts made personally by Trump, but he said the list was incomplete. When asked by the Post where Trump had personally made donations, Weisselberg refused to elaborate or provide any supporting documentation.
“We want to keep them quiet,” said Weisselberg. “He doesn’t want other charities to see it. Then it becomes like a feeding frenzy.” Readers may already know that Trump has also refused to make his personal tax returns public, so the mystery of his actual charitable contributions was knowingly left unsolved when this list was forwarded to the media.
The Post received the list and published it in its entirety last Friday, but they also delved into the details of the contributions to find that while every single donation has been credited to Trump, many have come from his foundation, which has been funded entirely by outside donors since 2009. From 2009 through 2014, the latest year for which a 990 is available, Trump has not donated any of his own personal money to the foundation.
As we reported last year, the Associated Press had done its own reporting into Trump’s donations, and found, like the Post, that Trump often made donations through the foundation using other people’s donations, but counted them as his own. While the AP received this list last year, it did not make the list public, as the Post has. At the time, Trump did not respond to any inquiry into how much he has personally given.
Other donations listed were nonmonetary gifts in the form of prizes or free trips. For example, the list of 4,844 donations includes an estimated 2,900 free rounds of golf raffled at his golf courses, valued at $1,720 per foursome. According to the Post, there are also an estimated 175 free hotel stays, 165 meals, and 11 gift certificates to spas that Trump claimed as a charitable contribution, despite not dispensing a penny himself.
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While the list includes a $1,136 donation last February to the Serena Williams Group, perhaps a reference to tennis champion Williams’ nonprofit organization, the Serena Williams Foundation, the “donation” actually refers to Trump flying Williams out to his Loudon County, Virginia, golf course for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new tennis center at the course. He also gave her a framed photograph of herself, according to the Post.
There are also a number of instances in the 94 pages where the charitable contributions are not very charitable at all. The Westin Beach Resort & Spa in Fort Lauderdale and the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel each received $800 gifts in December 2011 and are included on this list of personal charitable contributions, despite not being charities or nonprofits. There’s another $800 donation listed to someone named “Brian” as well, without any listed last name or explanation.
As we have seen with his strategic donations to veterans’ groups, the Post found that many donations, particularly through his foundation, were simply an outgrowth of Trump’s political and business interests. The largest gift Trump has made in the past five years was for $63.8 million in various nonspecific conservation easements, which essentially allowed him to maintain control of land, agreeing to not develop it, while still receiving tax breaks.
Many may also have heard about Trump’s generous $100,000 donation to the 9/11 Museum in New York City. The gift comes a week before the New York primary. Again, the donation came from the foundation, not Trump himself. The foundation also donated to the American Cancer Society and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, both of which had held the fundraisers in his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida.
“He’s using [the foundation] as a kind of checkbook, with other people’s money,” said Leslie Lenkowsky, a faculty member at Indiana University’s school of philanthropy, “Not a good model. It’s not wrong. It’s not unique. But it’s poor philanthropy.”
How about the $1,000,000 Trump had personally promised to veterans as part of his fundraiser? According to the Post, Trump’s campaign spokeswoman declined to answer whether he has disbursed that money.
This is all the more concerning when one considers the reputation as a philanthropist that Trump has built for himself and attempted to reinforce through the fundraiser and public stunt in January. It should be more telling than anything that Trump has not been willing to put his money where is mouth is—just other people’s money.—Shafaq Hasan