Donald Trump wants you to believe a lot of things about him: that he has the knowledge and experience to run one of the largest and most powerful countries in the world is what he is trying to sell us on now. But he also wants you to believe that he is a charitable guy. He’s a billionaire, so naturally he fills the coffers of various charities and non-profit organizations with his money, right? Not so fast, says a new report from The Washington Post.
The website Look To the Stars lists an impressive number of charities supported by Trump, such as “Children With AIDS,” “Make-a-Wish Foundation,” “UNICEF,” “Wounded Warrior Foundation” and more. That site doesn’t say how Trump supports those causes, but in many cases it appears to be with things other than his own money.
A 93-page document furnished by the Trump campaign to The Washington Post shows the names of the charities that Trump has donated to since 2010, along with dollar amounts. The different contributions add up to over $102 million. But not so fast, say WaPo reporters David A. Fahrenthold and Rosalind S. Helderman, none of those donations represents a gift of Trump’s own personal money. In fact, the overwhelming majority of the more than 4,000 “contributions” on the list are free rounds of golf donated for things like charity auctions by Trump-owned golf courses. In other words, the person who won the auction actually put up the money that Trump is claiming that he donated to charity.
The largest single item on the list, to the tune of almost $64 million, is for “conservation easements.” That amount is apparently what Trump’s accountants have figured as the value of agreements that certain Trump-owned land would not be developed. Also, Fahrenthold and Helderman observe that some of the donations on the list, like one to tennis star Serena Williams, were not to charities at all.
Most of the money claimed to have been donated by Trump actually came from the Trump Foundation, rather than his personal fortune. According to recent tax documents, that foundation didn’t receive a penny from Trump between 2009-2014.
Here is how Fahrenthold and Helderman say Trump’s claimed contributions break down:
The breakdown of just what actually constitutes Trump’s charitable giving is new, but questions about his philanthropy have been around for a while. In 2011, The Smoking Gun called Trump “the least charitable billionaire in the world.” That story highlighted how Trump only gave $3.7 million to the Trump Foundation from 1990 to 2009. Trump isn’t even the largest donor to his own charity — that honor belongs to professional wrestling magnate Vince McMahon and his wife.
Leslie Lenkowski, from Indiana University’s school of philanthropy, had this to say about Trump and his foundation:
He’s using [the foundation] as a kind of checkbook, with other people’s money. Not a good model. It’s not wrong. It’s not unique. But it’s poor philanthropy.
By way of comparison, here is what Star Wars creator George Lucas, who is tied with Trump on the list of the world’s richest people, did with his family foundation. Lucas donated $925 million to the “George Lucas Family Foundation” in 2012. In 2014, that foundation gave out $55 million in donations to various charities, while the Trump Foundation gave out $591,000.
It seems that finding proof of Donald Trump’s personal generosity is as hard as locating those thousands of Muslims he said were celebrating in New Jersey on 9/11.
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