To Participate on Thurstonblog

email, provide profile information and we'll email your electronic membership

Sunday, October 30, 2016

#TruthlessTrump promises much, gives little or nothing, but grabs the publicity and notoriety for free.

Trump talks a big game on charity, but his actual donations fall well short
By David A. Fahrenthold, October 29, 2016

In the fall of 1996, a charity called the Association to Benefit Children held a ribbon-cutting in Manhattan for a new nursery school serving children with AIDS. The bold-faced names took seats up front.

There was then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) and former Mayor David Dinkins (D). TV stars Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford, who were major donors. And there was a seat saved for Steven Fisher, a developer who had given generously to build the nursery.

Then, all of a sudden, there was Donald Trump.

"Nobody knew he was coming," said Abigail Disney, another donor sitting on the dais. "There's this kind of ruckus at the door, and I don't know what was going on, and in comes Donald Trump. [He] just gets up on the podium and sits down."

Trump was not a major donor. He was not a donor, period. He'd never given a dollar to the nursery or the Association to Benefit Children, according to Gretchen Buchenholz, the charity's executive director then and now.

But now he was sitting in Fisher's seat, next to Giuliani.

"Frank Gifford turned to me and said, 'Why is he here?' " Buchenholz recalled recently. By then, the ceremony had begun. There was nothing to do.

"Just sing past it," she recalled Gifford telling her.

So they warbled into the first song on the program, "This Little Light of Mine," alongside Trump and a chorus of children - with a photographer snapping photos, and Trump looking for all the world like an honored donor to the cause.

Afterward, Disney and Buchenholz recalled, Trump left without offering an explanation. Or a donation. Fisher was stuck in the audience. The charity spent months trying to repair its relationship with him.

"I mean, what's wrong with you, man?" Disney recalled thinking of Trump, when it was over.

For as long as he has been rich and famous, Donald Trump has also wanted people to believe he is generous. He spent years constructing an image as a philanthropist by appearing at charity events and by making very public - even nationally televised - promises to give his own money away.

It was, in large part, a facade. A months-long investigation by The Washington Post has not been able to verify many of Trump's boasts about his philanthropy.

Instead, throughout his life in the spotlight, whether as a businessman, television star or presidential candidate, The Post found that Trump had sought credit for charity he had not given - or had claimed other people's giving as his own.

It is impossible to know for certain what Trump has given to charity, because he has declined to release his tax returns. In all, The Post was able to identify $7.8 million in charitable giving from Trump's own pocket since the early 1980s.

In public appearances, Trump often made it appear that he gave far more.

Trump promised to give away the proceeds of Trump University. He promised to donate the salary he earned from "The Apprentice." He promised to give personal donations to the charities chosen by contestants on "Celebrity Apprentice." He promised to donate $250,000 to a charity helping Israeli soldiers and veterans.

Together, those pledges would have increased Trump's lifetime giving by millions of dollars. But The Post has been unable to verify that he followed through on any of them.

Instead, The Post found that his 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. That was a gift to the Police Athletic League of New York City, in 2009. It was worth less than $10,000.

- - -

The charity that Trump has given the most money to over his lifetime appears to be his own: the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

But that charity, too, was not what it seemed.

The Trump Foundation appeared outwardly to be a typical, if small, philanthropic foundation - set up by a rich man to give his riches away.

In reality, it has been funded largely by other people. Tax records show the Trump Foundation has received $5.5 million from Trump over its life, and nothing since 2008. It received $9.3 million from other people.

Another unusual feature: one of the foundation's most consistent causes was Trump himself.

New findings, for instance, show that the Trump Foundation's largest-ever gift - $264,631 - was used to renovate a fountain outside the windows of Trump's Plaza Hotel.

Its smallest-ever gift, for $7, was paid to the Boy Scouts in 1989, at a time when it cost $7 to register a new Scout. Trump's oldest son was 11 at the time. Trump did not respond to a question about whether the money paid to register him.

At other times, Trump used his foundation's funds to settle legal disputes involving Trump's for-profit companies and to buy two large portraits of himself, including one that wound up hanging on the wall of the sports bar at a Trump-owned golf resort. Those purchases raised questions about whether Trump had violated laws against "self-dealing" by charity leaders.

In advance of this story, The Post sent more than 70 questions to the Trump campaign.

Those questions covered the individual anecdotes and statistics contained in this story, including the tale about Trump crashing the ribbon-cutting in 1996, as well as broader questions about Trump's life as a philanthropist.

Exactly when, before this spring, did Trump last give his own money to charity?

What did Trump consider his greatest act of charity in recent years?

Trump's campaign did not respond.

The result of The Post's examination of Trump's charity is a portrait of the GOP nominee, revealed in the negative space between what he was willing to promise - and what he was willing to give.

"All of this is completely consistent with who Trump is. He's a man who operates inside a tiny bubble that never extends beyond what he believes is his self-interest," said Tony Schwartz, Trump's co-author on his 1987 book "The Art of the Deal." Schwartz has become a fierce critic of Trump in this election.

"If your worldview is only you - if all you're seeing is a mirror - then there's nobody to give money to," Schwartz said. "Except yourself."

- - -

In repeated interviews with The Post this year, Trump has declined to supply details about his giving, saying that if charities knew what Trump had donated they would badger him to give more.

"I give mostly to a lot of different groups," Trump said in one interview.

"Can you give us any names?" asked The Post's Drew Harwell in May.

"No, I don't want to. No, I don't want to," Trump responded. "I'd like to keep it private."

Of the $7.8 million in personal giving that The Post identified, about 70 percent - $5.5 million -- went to the Trump Foundation, which was founded in 1987. All of that giving came before 2009; since then, the foundation's tax records show no donations at all from Trump to his foundation. Its coffers have been filled by others, including $5 million from pro-wrestling executives Vince and Linda McMahon.

At least $1.1 million of Trump's giving has come in the last six months.

That includes a gift that first brought Trump's charity - and the gap between the promises and the substance of his giving - to the center of his presidential campaign.

In January, Trump skipped a GOP primary debate in a feud with Fox News and held a televised fundraiser for veterans. In that broadcast, Trump said he'd personally donated to the cause: "Donald Trump gave $1 million," he said.

Months later, The Post could find no evidence Trump had done so. Then, Corey Lewandowski - Trump's campaign manager at the time - called to say the money had been given out. In private. No details. "He's not going to share that information," Lewandowski said.

In reality, at that point, Trump had given nothing.

Trump didn't give away the $1 million until a few days later, as the news media sought to check Lewandowski's false claim. Trump gave it all to the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, which helps families of fallen Marines. Trump bristled at this reporter's suggestion that he had only given the money away because the media was asking about it.

"You know, you're a nasty guy. You're really a nasty guy," Trump said. "I gave out millions of dollars that I had no obligation to do."

Later, in August, Trump also gave $100,000 to a church near Baton Rouge. He sent the check after visiting the church during a tour of flood-ravaged areas.

For years, Trump built a reputation as somebody whose charity was as big as his success.

That identity was expressed, for a time, in Trump's biography on his corporate website. His image had two seemingly equal parts.

"He is the archetypal businessman," the biography said, "a deal maker without peer and an ardent philanthropist."

In the books he wrote or co-wrote about himself, Trump frequently praised charitable giving in the abstract - casting it as a moral response to his vast wealth.

"We've benefited from the American Dream and we feel the duty to give back to the community," he wrote of his family in "The America We Deserve" in 2000. "Those who don't are nothing more than parasites."

In the same books, Trump seemed to regard charity differently when he encountered it in his day-to-day life.

In those cases, it sounds like a hassle.

A game he can't win, and hates playing.

"The people who run charities know that I've got wealthy friends and can get them to buy tables," Trump said in "The Art of the Deal," explaining why he'd turned down a charity request from New York Yankee Dave Winfield. "I understand the game, and while I don't like to play it, there is no graceful way out."

One rare time when Trump describes finding joy in the act of charity comes in 2008's "Trump: Never Give Up."

"I can remember a friend who asked me why I had so many charity events at my properties," Trump wrote. "I said to him, 'Because I can!'. . . It's a great feeling, and it makes all the work that goes into acquiring all those beautiful properties and buildings worth it."

But that's not entirely a story about how Trump gives money away.

It's also a story about how Trump makes money.

Charities pay him to rent out his clubs and banquet rooms for fundraiser galas. At the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, they can pay $275,000 or more for a single night. Sometimes, Trump has given donations from the Trump Foundation to the charities that are his customers.

But in some of those cases, he still comes out ahead.

"It cost, I think, 20-some thousand," said William Hertzler, of the German-American Hall of Fame, who rented space at Trump Tower when the hall inducted Trump in 2012. Trump was the 15th person inducted, the year after magicians Siegfried and Roy. Trump gave a $1,000 donation from the Trump Foundation.

Hertzler said the hall of fame was okay with that. "He came down" to attend the gala, held in the same tower where Trump lives, Hertzler said. "His time is very valuable."

- - -

No comments: