On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that President Trump would donate $1 million of his “personal money” to Hurricane Harvey victims. But on Friday, she wasn’t so sure.
Asked by a reporter if she knew whether Trump’s donation would be “coming from his own money or from the Trump Foundation,” Sanders dodged.
“I haven’t had a chance to do that,” she said, suggesting she hadn’t yet had a chance to ask the president where the money would be coming from.
Sanders still hasn't found out if Trump's $1MIL donation to Harvey victims will be a personal donation or come from his foundation (via CBS) pic.twitter.com/gNbnDxMTho
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) September 1, 2017
During the campaign, reporting by the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold and others demonstrated that Trump treated his foundation — which he hadn’t personally donated to since 2008 — like a personal expense account. Trump was also shown to have repeatedly exaggerated his giving.
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.
The Smoking Gun dubbed Trump “The .00013% Man” for his “paltry” charitable giving. During Trump’s Apprentice days, donations he claimed would be coming out of his own pocket were in fact made by his foundation.
If Trump does indeed donate his “personal money” to Harvey victims, it’d represent a break from the pattern he established since the time of his last donation to the Trump Foundation in 2008. As Fahrenthold reported just days before the election, Trump’s “personal giving has almost disappeared entirely in recent years.”
“After calling 420-plus charities with some connection to Trump, The Post found only one personal gift from Trump between 2008 and the spring of this year,” Fahrenthold added. “That was a gift to the Police Athletic League of New York City, in 2009. It was worth less than $10,000.”
And even if Trump does donate $1 million of personal wealth, his contribution represents a pittance in relation to the drastic cuts he’s proposing in environmental and disaster relief programs.
Those cuts, which will be considered this month as Congress tries to set a budget, include an $876 million cut in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief account, a $200 million cut to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration programs that help coastal states brace for future storms, and a $2.6 billion cut to the Environmental Protection Agency, among others.
UPDATE (9/5, 3:30 p.m.): At the end of a White House news briefing on Tuesday, Sanders confirmed that Trump’s donation will indeed come from his personal money.
“That will be a personal donation of a million dollars,” Sanders said, adding that the White House will be releasing full details soon.
Trump’s hand may have been somewhat forced, as the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold pointed out on Friday.
— David Fahrenthold (@Fahrenthold) September 2, 2017
In September of last year, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his office had opened a multi-pronged investigation into the Trump Foundation. Schneiderman’s announcement came on the heels of a report about the foundation donating to a campaign group associated with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi at a time when Bondi was reviewing allegations that Trump University swindled students, and another about how Trump on more than one occasion used Trump Foundation funds to give himself gifts.