Donald Trump and the Trump Foundation

September 18, 2016

We’re all about Donald Trump and the Trump Foundation today. Here’s a CNN exchange between Trump Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway and reporter Alisyn Camerota on Tuesday, September 13:

Conway:  Donald Trump has been incredibly generous over the course of his life.

Camerota:  With his own money?

Conway:  With his own money, and his foundation’s money – which is his money.

Where do I begin? So many falsehoods in Ms. Conway’s 24 words.

Let’s start with the fact that for almost 20 years I served on and chaired nonprofit boards. I have also raised a few hundred thousand dollars for charities. Done lots of work on fund development and board governance issues. Represented several nonprofit entities. And I have worked closely with 8 – 10 people who private family foundations which purposefully give away lots of money!

Bona fides out of the way, tax law mostly drives the structure of charitable organizations. The Internal Revenue Service describes the differences between public charities and private foundations in three short paragraphs. Presumptively, nonprofits are private foundations, unless they qualify for public charity status. The status affects certain tax issues.

Basically, public charities raise money and operate programs or support entities which do. On the other hand, private foundations usually have one or a very small number of funding sources and give money to other charities. The Donald J. Trump Foundation is a private foundation.

All nonprofits—but for very small ones—file a Form 990 annually. The form reports on the foundation’s financial activities. Form 990s get signed. As with income tax returns, false statements can generate criminal charges.

Form 990s are public documents. They’re public because tax exempt status gives the public an interest in the money. A nonprofit’s board of directors exercises control over the money, but only for the benefit of the public. So, when Ms. Conway says the Trump Foundation’s money is Mr. Trump’s money, too, she’s wrong. Once the Trump Foundation gets the money, wherever it came from, it belongs to the public, to be used solely for charitable purposes. (More on this at the end of the piece.)

Here’s the search result from FoundationCenter.org for the Trump Foundation. The linked 990s, for 2012-14, show no contributions from Mr. Trump or any member of his family. David Farenthold, the Washington Post reporter who has so ably reported on Trump and giving goes back to 2008, finding no contributions from Mr. Trump to his own foundation. Simply, the best evidence does not support Ms. Conway’s claim about incredible generosity, at least in the last several years.

Sources aside, between 2012 and 2014 the Trump Foundation gave away, $3,216,614. Lots of money in nominal dollars. And Mr. Trump can give away nothing if that’s his pleasure, for sure. That said, incredible generosity and $3,216,614, together, require context.

Mr. Trump says he’s worth is $10,000,000,000. No credible evidence supports Mr. Trump’s opinion, but that’s his claim. So, the Trump Foundation has given away—from other people’s donations—an amount which equals .0321666% of Mr. Trump’s assets. With a net worth of exactly one million dollars, $321.67 represents a comparison of giving to net worth.* 

With respect for the right to give away nothing incredible generosity from a millionaire involves much, much more than $107.22 per year. ($321.67, divided by three.) And from an alleged deci-billionaire, a million or so dollars, even if the money was his, ain’t much!

So maybe the incredible generosity involves Mr. Trump making anonymous gifts from sources other than the Trump Foundation. Maybe … but TRUMP on everything is this man’s raison d’être. Anonymous is not how he rolls! And, by the way, people who make anonymous gifts don’t often shout about their incredibly generosity.

Disclosing tax returns might explain Mr. Trump’s incredible generosity but … er, as someone dear to me might say, “Blah, blah, blah!”

So, let’s wrap this up with a little Q and A: 

Can the Trump Foundation buy a portrait of its vainglorious namesake? No!

Can the Trump Foundation pay $25,000 to the political campaign of a Florida politician? Who, a few days before the check was sent, talked about investigating the crooked “university” which the fraudster namesake—same guy—operated, separating people from their hard-earned dollars. Ah … No!!!  

Do private foundations operate like the Trump Foundation? None which I have ever encountered.

Available evidence supports none of Donald Trump’s claims about charitable giving. Once again, Mr. Trump demonstrates that at his core he’s a scam artist. 

*The comparison ignores the fact that wealthier people can share a larger percentage of their assets without affecting their basic needs. For a millionaire, giving 10% of her assets—$100K—will matter much more to her than will a billion dollar gift from a man with $10B net worth.

2 Responses to Donald Trump and the Trump Foundation

  • Why are we not investigating the Trump Foundation. This seems criminal and exactly what the sector does not need.

    • The New York Attorney General has opened an investigation. Someone blamed the media. I think the problem is law enforcement, which has given him a free pass for decades. I was mulling over in my mind this morning whether a president can pardon himself. Frightful thinking!

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