Though members of Donald Trump’s campaign have repeatedly suggested that his tax-exempt Donald J. Trump Foundation was funded by the millionaire real estate investor, it has been known for some time that that is not true. But a new report on Tuesday by the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold reveals that Trump often treated the foundation more as a personal expense account than as a charitable fund, possibly in violation of tax laws.
Though tax laws say 501(c)(3) charitable foundations may not be used to make political donations or for “self-dealing,” the Trump foundation reportedly did both. The foundation paid a $2,500 penalty for an improper $25,000 gift in 2013 to a committee supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R), who was considering an investigation of his Trump University at the time and later opted not to open one.
Additionally, Fahrenthold found that Trump used more than $250,000 of the money raised by the his foundation to settle legal problems for his myriad business interests. Additionally, he used $10,000 of foundation money to buy a portrait of himself at a charity fundraiser, $20,000 from the Trump Foundation to buy a different portrait of himself, and $12,000 from the tax-exempt foundation to buy an autographed Tim Tebow football helmet. A $5,000 foundation donation to the D.C. Preservation League Tax was used to obtain ad space for Trump hotels. Experts told the Post that these payments would appear to be “classic self-dealing,” in violation of tax law and philanthropic conventions.
Last week, Trump’s current campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told CNN that “Donald Trump has been incredibly generous over the course of his life. Asked if that meant with Trump’s own money, she replied: “With his own money, and his foundation’s money — which is his money.” Asked if he would document his alleged generosity, she replied, “I doubt it. This is like badgering. I don’t see it as journalism.”
Back in July, Trump’s son Eric claimed that his father gave “millions and millions and millions” to charities, including hundreds of thousands of dollars to his own foundation. After initially promising to verify his father’s donations, he later refused to do so.
And last Monday, Trump’s vice presidential pick, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, said that “anyone who knows about Donald Trump and his career knows that this is a man who’s given away tens of millions of dollars to charitable causes throughout his business life.”
But the campaign has refused to provide details about his charitable giving or to release any of Trump’s tax returns. Tax documents for the foundation, which are public record, show small donations from Trump in 2007 and 2008 and no donations since. Even when Trump promised to make charitable contributions out of his own wallet on his NBC “reality” show, the donations were made by the foundation or the program’s production company.
In 1999, the Smoking Gun dubbed Trump “The .00013% Man” for his “paltry” charitable giving. But ironically, Trump demanded last month that Bill and Hillary Clinton close the Clinton Foundation (which the Trump Foundation once helped fund), calling it “the most corrupt enterprise in political history.”
Though that foundation has actually raised and distributed millions of dollars toward global health, empowerment of women, reducing childhood obesity, addressing climate change, and rebuilding Haiti, Trump said it “must be shut down immediately.”
Last week, the New York attorney general confirmed that his office is investigating the Trump Foundation for possible improprieties.