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September 13, 2016 ~ The Policy Geek
The Not So Giving Tree
The painting of himself upon which Donald Trump spent $20K is currently on display at Mar-a-Lago resort in FL (Twitter.com)
At the start of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump announced that he gave more than $102 million to charity in the previous five years. To back up that claim, Trump’s campaign compiled a list of his contributions — 4,844 of them, filling 93 pages. Since we don't have his tax returns, reporters have to dine on the scraps provided, and even in the info that Trump did give out, the more they looked, the more they found Trump's 'charitable donations' more often than not came from somewhere other than his own pocket. In fact, in the 93-page list the Trump campaign provided, Washington Post reporters couldn't identify any gifts that consisted of actual cash flowing from Trump's pockets to someone else's.
Trump gave out Play-Dooh to flood victims in Louisiana for a total of 48 camera ready seconds in August 2016 (AP)
Much of what Trump calls 'giving to charity' are actually free rounds of golf. Some beneficiaries on the list are not charities at all: They included clients, other businesses and tennis superstar Serena Williams. Analysts found that when the Republican front-runner does give, it's through his foundation. David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post decided to go back over the past seven years of Trump Foundation giving and it appearseach event is narrowly tied to his business and now, his political interests. For example, his foundation frequently gave money to groups that paid to use Trump’s facilities, and it donated to conservatives who could help promote Trump’s rise in the Republican Party.
The foundation’s second-biggest donation described on the campaign’s own list went to the charity of a man who had settled a lawsuit with one of Trump’s golf courses after being denied a hole-in-one prize. Trump doesn't even pay when someone wins a contest he sponsors on one of his own properties. Like most Trumpian financial transactions, the art of his deal is to renege on any and all payments due, then lawyer the other guy to death, forcing them to sue him if they can and - if you're lucky - eventually you get to settle for less. Even for a hole-in-prize. And by giving the prize money he owed to this lucky golfer's charity instead, Trump got a tax deduction. Man oh man. Donald's brilliant.
When asked about The Post’s analysis, a top Trump aide acknowledged that none of the gifts had come in cash from the billionaire himself. But he went on to say that was because the list was not actually a complete account of Trump’s gifts. Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, said Trump had, in fact, given generously from his own pocket. But Weisselberg declined to provide any documentation, such as saying how much charitable giving Trump has declared in his federal tax filings. “We want to keep them quiet,” said Weisselberg, who is also treasurer of the Trump Foundation. “He doesn’t want other charities to see it. Then it becomes like a feeding frenzy.” Apparently, the fact that Trump has money is also a 'trade secret.'
Follow The "Giving"
In an effort to find proof of Trump's personal giving, The NY Post contacted more than 250 charities with some ties to the GOP nominee. Some got money from the Trump Foundation. In other cases, Trump had a personal connection to the charity or its leaders . Some were charities that DonorSearch database records indicated he might have given to. A variety of other reasons included media mentions, gala attendance, or involvement with Trump's TV show "Celebrity Apprentice." So far, The Post's search has turned up little. Between 2008 and this May — when Trump made good on a pledge to give $1 million to a veterans' group — its search has identified just one personal gift from Trump's own pocket.
Using Veterans Groups For Campaigning Set Pieces
Trump holds what turns out to be a fake Veteran's fundraiser, and it's broadcast live. NBC host Rachel Maddow exposed that Trump’s appearance aboard the USS Iowa, an event benefiting 'Veterans for a Strong America,' with tickets ranging between $100 and $1,000, was actually an elaborate hoax played out on Trump. During the televised fundraiser, Trump bragged that this organization and their endorsement, represented "hundreds of thousands of veterans." In reality, the FEC filings for the group’s PAC reveal, besides having only $30 cash in hand and $318 in debts, the organization’s only member is founder Joel Arends. Joel Arends is a con man, and because the Trump campaign did no vetting, let alone any extreme vetting, 70 year old Donald Trump was conned. In turn, 'Ol Donnie conned a bunch of earnest ticket buyers - who thought they were helping veterans - out of some cash too. Is that fraud? We don't have reports on where the cash raised actually went. Nowhere as far as we can figure.
“Donald Trump was not in the military, but he did use a pretty military backdrop tonight to raise money for a non-existent veterans’ group, which endorsed him formally as part of his introduction. He said they have hundreds of thousands of members. And they don’t. And so the whole thing is fake.”
Rachel Maddow, MSNBC
The revelation of this complete failure to manage and vet the most rudimentary of events did nothing to stop Trump. No one noticed. His campaign dreams didn't die. He just kept on a runnin' - and rising in the polls.
Veteran's Fundraiser Take Two - Nothing To See Here Folks
That Carrier-on-the-Hudson debacle led to Trump planning another fundraising event just for our veterans, set up last minute, that was broadcast during an actual Republican debate he dropped out of. You might remember during the primary season, Trump actually ditched an actual Presidential debate to hold a "megafundraiser" for veterans the same night. After his debate bow out, he announced he only missed the debate because he had done something far more important, "raise $6 million for actual reputable veterans' groups."
Good Job - Where's The Money?
In May, almost four months after pledging $1 million of his own money that night in January, Donald still had yet to write one check. Trump surrogates had repeatedly insisted that the mogul had already given that money away, and the campaign put out various statements saying the same thing. But that was false. Trump had not. Only under pressure from the news media did Donald make good on the pledge, and finally wrote a check for the $1 million to on nonprofit group helping veterans’ families, The Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation. After that odd inappropriate delay, I mean that's not like Donald, he always pays his bills on time, right? No wonder DJ Trump isn't a fan of the media. They made him cough up $1 million just because he said he would.
Insincere Reluctant Donations
After that delay, we got curious, and started looking into the rest of Trump's charitable claims going back 15 years prior to this reluctant veteran's gift. In that time, public records showed that Trump did donate about $2.8 million through the foundation set up to give his money away. Unfortunately, when reviewing those donations, and this is true, they totaled less than a third of the pledged amount in each case. In addition, David Fahrenthold reports found nothing donated since 2009. That is correct, available records show Trump has given nothing to his own foundation since 2008.
Where The Wild Money Goes
What is most interesting to note here is the GOP candidate's vetting process, or lack thereof, in choosing who to assist with his showy fundraiser money. According to Charity Watch, a number of charities that have received donations from Donald J. Trump Foundation fundraisers have actually received an F rating for what they do with the money they get. What could possibly cause a Veteran's Charity to get an F rating? Well, they found of the 41 veterans organizations that were listed, all but three had record low program spending, and four are sitting on huge amounts of available funds. Of particular concern is Foundation for American Veterans (FAV), which received $75,000. Since 2009 FAV has been rated “F” by CharityWatch for having an extremely high cost to raise each $100 in donations and for spending a very small portion of its cash budget on charitable programs (10%). Furthermore, in May 2016 FAV’s primary professional fundraiser was accused by the Minnesota Attorney General of sending false “pledge reminders” and making other deceptive statements in its fundraising solicitations. Also poorly rated by CharityWatch areAMVETS National Service Foundation and AMVETS National Headquarters (with “F” and “D” grades, respectively). Freedom Alliance and Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society are other high asset charities that each received $75,000 donations from the Trump fundraiser, also on Charity Watch's watchlist.This goes on and on for charity after charity listed by Donald's campaign as the veterans' charities The Donald has specifically chosen to support. When it comes to vets and their support groups, Trump seems to do no vetting at all.
Given that charitable dollars are limited and society’s needs, especially those of veterans, are not, it is vital that charities do not hoard the funds they raise. CharityWatch says it's reasonable for a charity to hold less than three years worth of available assets in reserve for financial stability and possible future needs. Also interesting to note, Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation is not yet rated by CharityWatch, but they calculated that the charity itself sits on over three-years’ worth its budget as of year-end 2014.
A Strong Foundation
So what we've found is that Donald J. Trump doesn't give what he says he's going to when he says he's going to. He started a Foundation to give to charity, but he has not donated himself to that Foundation since 2009, so it's really about giving other people's money away under his name. When he does give, he gives to charities with bad reputations who spend too much on overhead to be a useful way to support any charitable need or he donates from the Trump Foundation directly to business associates in an inappropriate and fraudulent way.
You’d better believe it. If I ask them, if I need them, you know, most of the people on this stage I’ve given to, just so you understand, a lot of money. I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them, and they are there for me.
Jane Doe - Another Company, LLC
Pay To Play
Repeatedly asked what he got in return for his donations, Trump has said: “With Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding. You know why? She didn’t have a choice because I gave. I gave to a foundation that, frankly, that foundation is supposed to do good.” Though it surely wasn’t his intention, Trump was illustrating the key problem with the current campaign finance system. Campaign contributions are legally considered bribes only when there is an explicit quid-pro-quo. But as Trump explained, giving money to politicians bought him access and relationships, which he could leverage down the road in the form of favors. Such conflicts of interest are inherent in privately funded election systems. Trump has indeed made a considerable number of political donations, as recorded by OpenSecrets.org which begs the question, other than wedding attendance, what kind of favors has he gotten?
Giving from the Heart
Lavish galas and balls are a hallmark of the social scene in Palm Beach, Florida — and often all put on to raise money for big-name charities. One of the largest and most popular venues for these events is Donald Trump’s very own Mar-a-Lago club, where money is raised each year for charities like the American Heart Association. Trump has pointed to the money raised at the club as evidence of his own philanthropy, telling CNBC in 2011, “I believe there is more money in that club for charity than any other place in Florida. I mean, the place has been amazing, the kind of money we raise on a weekly basis, and I just believe that you have to give back and if you don’t give back, you’re not being honest with yourself.” As the owner of Mar-a-lago, Trump brings in millions of dollars in revenue for his company by hosting these major charity events each year.
Though a Mar-a-Lago employee said she could not share pricing information with a non-member, a BuzzFeed News review of charity tax records and local fundraising permits shows that the price tag to hold events there usually ranges between $200,000 and $350,000, depending on the number of attendees. Smaller events, like luncheons and receptions, tend to run outside groups under $100,000. The fees for services provided by Mar-a-Lago — the venue, food, and drinks — can comprise more than half the total price for the major events. While Trump has often bragged about the money he personally donates, investigations by BuzzFeed News and the Washington Post have raised questions about his claims of charitable giving. A Washington Post investigation was only able find $10,000 in personal charity donations from Trump over the last seven years. Most donations from Trump to charity are through his namesake Trump Foundation, to which he hasn’t donated since 2008.
One of the charities most loyal to Trump’s club, the Palm Beach Police Foundation, which supports the local police department, has spent an average of $261,777 each year on its annual ball, held at Trump’s club every year since the charity was founded in 2006. Where the organization’s tax records show fees for the price of the facility, those range from $125,000 in 2007 to $235,362 in 2012 to $276,463 in 2013. For at least one of Palm Beach’s big charity events, it seems that the downsides of Trump’s presence came to outweigh the benefits. In 2013, the Red Cross moved its annual ball to a competing venue, The Breakers. Asked why they moved the event, that year’s chairwoman Mary Ourisman, a former ambassador to Barbados and Republican fundraiser, told The Washington Post, “It had really become more about Donald Trump than about the Red Cross.”