The Slatest

The Trump Foundation Is Just a Front for Trump to Pretend to Give to Charity

Donald Trump, Barron Trump, and Melania Trump attend Trump Invitational Grand Prix Mar-a-Lago Club on Jan. 4, 2015, in Palm Beach, Florida.

Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s charity is basically just a front for Trump to give away other people’s money in his own name, sometimes for causes that directly benefit Donald Trump. This is according to the latest reporting from the Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold, who has been running a series of excellent articles on the newspaper’s difficulty in finding evidence that Trump is nearly as charitable as he claims to be.

The story leads with the example of the Trump Foundation’s $150,000 worth of donations to the Palm Beach Police Foundation, which was seemingly paid for with money Trump’s foundation had raised from another charitable group called the Charles Evans Foundation.


After his organization gave the donation, Trump was honored in 2010 for his “selfless support” with a gala and the organization’s Palm Tree Award—a toddler-size statue of a palm tree. Trump hasn’t actually contributed to his own organization since 2008, instead raising money from others and then giving it away in the name of his own charity.


These donations didn’t even qualify as charity, charity expert and Indiana University professor Leslie Lenkowsky told the Post. “Our common understanding of charity is you give something of yourself to help somebody else. It’s not something that you raise money from one side to spend it on the other,” Lenkowsky said.

The Post reports that “Trump may have actually made money” on the Palm Beach event, which was held at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach in a room that was rented by the police foundation. While the Post couldn’t determine what the group paid Trump for that event, they learned that it had paid $276,463 for a different room rental in 2014. BuzzFeed reported that the police foundation has paid an average of $261,777 to Mar-a-Lago “each year on its annual ball, held at Trump’s club every year since the charity was founded in 2006.”


The Charles Evans Foundation stopped giving to the Trump Foundation in 2012, the Post reports.

The paper had previously noted how Trump had used the foundation—and charitable donations made by NBCUniversal—to pay off donations made in his name on his reality TV show Celebrity Apprentice.


“Another time, Trump went on TV’s “Extra” for a contest called ‘Trump pays your bills!’ ” Fahrenthold wrote. “A professional spray-tanner won. The Trump Foundation paid her bills.”

Here, from the Post, is one of the most choice examples of Trump scorning the very idea of a charitable donations (and also, apparently, IRS rules about charitable donations):

At the same time that it began to rely on other people’s money, the Trump Foundation sometimes appeared to flout IRS rules by purchasing things that seemed to benefit only Trump.


In 2007, for instance, Trump and his wife, Melania, attended a benefit for a children’s charity held at Mar-a-Lago. The night’s entertainment was Michael Israel, who bills himself as “the original speed painter.” His frenetic act involved painting giant portraits in five to seven minutes—then auctioning off the art he’d just created.

He painted Trump.

Melania Trump bid $10,000.

Nobody tried to outbid her.

“The auctioneer was just pretty bold, so he said, ‘You know what just happened: When you started bidding, nobody’s going to bid against you, and I think it’s only fair that you double the bid,’ ” Israel said in an interview last week.


Melania Trump increased her bid to $20,000.


“I understand it went to one of his golf courses,” Israel said of the painting.

The Trump Foundation paid the $20,000, according to the charity that held the benefit.

The Post reported earlier this month that Trump paid the IRS a penalty this year for a 2013 “charitable donation” made by the Trump Foundation to a group supporting Florida attorney general Pamela Bondi, who soon after the donation was made decided against pursuing an investigation of Trump University.

The entire piece is worth a read and you can check it out here.

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 campaign.