Trump’s Charitable Giving Is Not His Own Personal Cash
Since the first day of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has said that he gave more than $102 million to charity in the past five years.
To back up that claim, Trump’s campaign compiled a list of his contributions — 4,844 of them, filling 93 pages.
But, in that massive list, one thing was missing.
Not a single one of those donations was actually a personal gift of Trump’s own money.
Instead, according to a Washington Post analysis, many of the gifts that Trump cited to prove his generosity were free rounds of golf, given away by his courses for charity auctions and raffles.
The largest items on the list were not cash gifts but land-
conservation agreements to forgo development rights on property Trump owns.
Trump’s campaign also counted a parcel of land that he’d given to New York state — although that was in 2006, not within the past five years.
In addition, many of the gifts on the list came from the charity that bears his name, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which didn’t receive a personal check from Trump from 2009 through 2014, according to the most recent public tax filings. Its work is largely funded by others, although Trump decides where the gifts go.
Some beneficiaries on the list are not charities at all: They included clients, other businesses and tennis superstar Serena Williams.
This list produced by Trump’s campaign — which has not been reported in detail before — provides an unusually broad portrait of Trump’s giving, and his approach to philanthropy in general.
It reveals how Trump has demonstrated less of the soaring, world-changing ambitions in his philanthropy than many other billionaires. Instead, his giving appears narrowly tied to his business and, now, his political interests.
His foundation, for example, 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 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.
The tally of Trump’s giving was provided by Trump’s campaign last year to the Associated Press, which was attempting to assess Trump’s recent record of charitable giving. The AP, which did not publish the list, provided it to The Post.
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 said, that was because the list was not a complete account of Trump’s gifts.
The aide, 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.”
‘The Grateful Millionaire’
In the early years of his career — when Trump was making a name as America’s human embodiment of success — he was known for acts of real, and well-publicized, philanthropy.
In 1986, Trump heard about a Georgia farmer who’d committed suicide because of an impending foreclosure. He reached out.
“He said, ‘Forget it. I’ll pay it off.’ He paid for it out of his personal money,” said Betsy Sharp, the daughter of the farmer, Leonard Hill III. Trump flew the family to Trump Tower to burn the hated mortgage in front of TV cameras, with an ebony cigarette lighter that said “New York.”
Through a combination of good deeds and good publicity, the idea of Trump as a gallant friend of the little guy caught on. By the late 1990s, as documented by the debunking site Snopes.com, Trump’s name had been grafted onto a classic American urban legend, known to folklorists as “The Grateful Millionaire.”
Trump — it was said in email chains and books of inspirational stories — had once been stranded in a limo. A good Samaritan stopped to help. Trump secretly paid off his mortgage. The legend goes back to at least 1954, when the grateful millionaire was Henry Ford.
The most complete public accounting of Trump’s actual charity so far is the $102 million list provided by his campaign last year, titled “Donald J. Trump Charitable Contributions.”
In places, it appears to be an unedited mash-up of internal lists kept by Trump’s golf clubs, noting all the things they’d given away to anybody. True charities like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children are followed by freebies given away at sales meetings, followed by entries in cryptic internal shorthand. At a Trump golf course in Miami, for instance, the recipient of a $800 gift was listed only as “Brian.”
To identify what the gifts represented, The Post interviewed recipients to find out what they’d received — and matched those gifts to others with the exact same dollar value.
By extrapolation, The Post estimated that Trump claimed credit for at least 2,900 free rounds of golf, 175 free hotel stays, 165 free meals and 11 gift certificates to spas.
“I thought it would be a pretty hot ticket, [and] it was,” said Marion Satterthwaite, who runs a charity that helps bring back dogs that U.S. service members have bonded with overseas. She was holding a silent auction, and one of things she auctioned off was a free round of golf donated by Trump’s private golf club in Colts Neck, N.J. At that club, Trump appeared to claim donations of 76 foursomes, each valued at $1,720. Satterthwaite said that, in her case, it sold for less.
But Trump’s list was also riddled with apparent errors, in which the “charities” that got his gifts didn’t seem to be charities at all.
Trump listed a donation to “Serena William Group” in February 2015, valued at exactly $1,136.56. A spokeswoman for the tennis star said she had attended a ribbon-
cutting at Trump’s Loudoun County, Va., golf course that year for a new tennis center. But Trump hadn’t donated to her charity. Instead, he had given her a free ride from Florida on his plane and a free framed photo of herself.
The Post sent an annotated version of this list — showing the results of its analysis, and its extrapolations about what each gift represented — to the Trump campaign, along with a detailed list of questions about Trump’s giving.
The Trump campaign declined to answer most of the questions or to provide an interview with Trump.
The Post’s analysis showed that the small giveaways from Trump businesses seemed to account for the bulk of the 4,844 transactions that Trump took credit for. But they accounted for only about $6.4 million of the total dollar figure.
The most expensive charitable contributions on Trump’s list, by contrast, dealt with transactions related to real estate.
For one, Trump counted $63.8 million of unspecified “conservation easements.” That refers to legal arrangements — which could bring tax breaks — in which a landowner agrees to forgo certain kinds of development on land that he owns. In California, for example, Trump agreed to an easement that prevented him from building homes on a plot of land near a golf course. But Trump kept the land, and kept making money off it. It is a driving range.
In this election, neither of Trump’s Republican rivals — Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) nor Ohio Gov. John Kasich — has detailed his recent charitable giving. Among the Democrats, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton said she and her husband gave 11 percent of their yearly income, and the Clintons have also established a foundation that has collected $2 billion for charity around the world, while also increasing their global celebrity and political network. Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) said he gave 5 percent of his yearly income.
Trump has not entirely given up making splashy public gifts.
In 2009, for instance, Trump appeared on the TV show “Extra” and promised that he would pay a struggling viewer’s bills. “This is really a bad time for a lot of people,” Trump said as the contest was announced.
The winner, who got $5,000, was a woman who runs a spray-tanning business.
But the contest’s rules, posted online, made clear that the winner would not be flown to New York like the family Trump helped in the 1980s. Moreover, the rules said, the winner would have to pay for cab fare.
“The winner must live in New York, provide their own transportation to Trump Tower, and be willing to meet Donald on-camera to accept his check,” the rules warned.
According to tax records, the winner’s check came from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, the charity created by Trump in the late 1980s. The same was true on Saturday, when Trump made a well-publicized $100,000 gift to the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York. The foundation gave the money after Trump made a brief visit to the museum as he campaigned ahead of next week’s New York primary.
The Trump Foundation
On the $102 million list created by Trump’s campaign, he claims credit for $7 million given by the foundation, where Trump serves as president.
The biggest donors to his foundation in recent years have been other people, most notably Vince and Linda McMahon, top executives at World Wrestling Entertainment. They donated $5 million after Trump made a cameo on “Wrestlemania” in 2007, according to a spokesman for WWE. The spokesman said Trump was paid separately for the appearance. Linda McMahon has since left WWE and is now active in politics. She and her husband both declined to comment about the donation.
Trump’s foundation has operated on a smaller scale than some run by his billionaire peers. Filmmaker George Lucas, for instance, who is tied with Trump at 324th place in Forbes’s list of the world’s billionaires, donated $925 million to his family foundation in 2012. In 2014, Lucas’s foundation gave out $55 million in donations to museums, hospitals, artistic groups and environmental charities.
Media magnate Sumner Redstone, also tied with Trump in the Forbes rankings, gave $28 million from his company to his foundation that year, and the foundation in turn gave out $31 million in gifts.
The Trump Foundation gave out $591,000 in 2014.
“He’s using [the foundation] as a kind of checkbook, with other people’s money,” Leslie Lenkowsky, a faculty member at Indiana University’s school of philanthropy, said after The Post described the recipients of the Trump Foundation’s gifts.
“Not a good model. It’s not wrong. It’s not unique. But it’s poor philanthropy.”
In 2013, Trump was trying to persuade the V Foundation — a cancer-fighting group founded by Jim Valvano, the college basketball coach who died in 1993 — to hold a fundraiser at his Trump Winery in Virginia.
Trump’s foundation gave $10,000 to the V Foundation that summer, just when the V Foundation later said it was being wooed. He got the fundraiser.
Trump’s foundation also gave to the American Cancer Society, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, all of which have held fundraisers at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla.
In 2010, a man named Martin Greenberg was playing in a charity tournament at Trump’s course in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. A $1 million prize was offered to anybody who got a hole in one.
Greenberg did. But then, hours later, he was called back. The rules said the hole-in-one shot had to go 150 yards. But, according to court documents, Trump’s course had made the hole too short.
Greenberg got nothing. He sued.
On the day that Trump and the other parties told the court that they had settled the case, the Donald J. Trump Foundation made its first and only donation to the Martin B. Greenberg Foundation, for $158,000. Both Greenberg and Trump’s campaign declined to comment.
Trump also used the foundation’s money to play the role of a big-hearted billionaire on TV — doling out at least $194,000 to various causes favored by contestants on “Celebrity Apprentice,” Trump’s spinoff reality show that appeared on NBC.
In 2012, NBC Universal made a $500,000 donation to the Trump Foundation. NBC Universal declined to comment about that gift.
In some cases, the recipient was a complete stranger: a club member who stopped him at the pool, another golfer, or a woman who’d just walked into his office.
“I’ll never forget. He said, ‘Debra, you have the ‘it’ factor. He said, ‘I don’t know any other beautiful woman going into the inner city,’ ” said Debra George, a Christian minister in Texas who met Trump when a mutual friend brought her along to his office. Trump asked how she paid for her work.
“It’s kind of like walking on air. We trust God,” she told him. “He said, ‘I’m going to help you.’ ” Trump’s foundation gave her charity $10,000.
Some recipients said they liked the Trump Foundation’s informal approach to giving. “(At) a lot of foundations, you know, there’s a grant process,” said Barbara Abernathy, whose charity helps children with cancer. Not Trump, whom Abernathy had met at a Mar-a-Lago gala. She later asked his people for money, to help a patient’s family afford medicine and a car payment. She got $1,000 in two weeks.”
In 2013, Scott K. York, then the head of the Board of Supervisors in Loudoun County, came to Trump’s son to ask for help. An elementary school in the county needed a $110,000 handicapped-accessible playground. York asked for $10,000. Trump’s foundation gave $7,500.
A month later, the Trump Foundation gave $50,000 to the American Conservative Union Foundation. With donations to that group, Politico has reported, Trump was building a relationship that won him prime speaking slots at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a coveted venue for an aspiring Republican presidential candidate.
In this campaign, Trump said he brought in more than $6 million during a fundraiser for veterans groups he held on Jan. 28 in Iowa.
But the Trump campaign has detailed only about $3 million worth of donations that have been given to veterans groups. Some were given directly by donors recruited by Trump, and in some cases, the Trump Foundation served as a middleman.
Trump’s campaign has said that Trump is continuing to identify and vet new recipients for the money but declined to provide additional details.
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks declined to respond to questions regarding whether Trump has followed through on a pledge to donate $1 million of his own money to the cause.
Still, as he has campaigned, Trump has benefited from a reputation for generosity.
“His limousine broke down one time, a couple stopped and helped him. He paid off their mortgage a few days later. These are all things that you never hear about Donald Trump,” Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, said on Fox News’s “Hannity” in January.
The Grateful Millionaire. The legend, alive and well.
In a telephone interview, Falwell, who has endorsed Trump, was asked: Did you ever ask Trump if that story was true?
“I never did,” Falwell said. “But, Trey, didn’t you search that on Google?”
“I didn’t,” his son Trey said. “But somebody did.”
“It was in some publication in 1995,” the elder Falwell concluded. “But I forget which publication.”
(h/t Washington Post)