Trump Foundation faces troubling legal, ethical questions

Trump announced June 16, 2015 he will run in the Republican presidential primary. 
(AP Photo)
Trump announced June 16, 2015 he will run in the Republican presidential primary. (AP Photo)

WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) — Serious questions are swirling around Donald Trump’s personal and charitable financial practices.

He claims to have given more than $100 million to charity, but the numbers don’t add up.

As the week goes on, allegations of ethical and legal wrongdoing faced by the Republican nominee are picking up steam.

New York’s attorney general announced Tuesday that his office is investigating the Donald J. Trump Foundation, headquartered in Manhattan, for possible “improprieties.”

Morning shows ran with documents revealing that the billionaire businessman hasn’t given a cent of his own money to his charity since 2008.

And the allegations don’t end there. They also include:

  • Misspending tens of thousands of Trump Foundation funds on personal items
  • Breaking non-profit tax laws
  • False claims of charitable giving
  • Back-scratching scheme to route external charity money back into his businesses

Despite the Trump campaign’s claims that he’s donated “tens of millions of dollars,” the real estate tycoon still refuses to prove that he’s personally given millions of dollars – or even thousands – to various charities over the past decade.

Trump’s unproven claims

Trump is a master of self-promotion and is fond of claiming to give major dough to worthy causes.

Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Trump’s running mate, publicly vouched for the former reality TV star’s generosity this week, insisting, “Anyone who knows anything about Donald Trump and his career knows that this is a man who’s given away tens of millions of dollars to charitable causes throughout the course of his business life.”

But when it comes time to prove the money’s origin and destination, the task becomes nearly impossible. The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold has led the charge to find answers.

Earlier this election, Trump skipped a Fox News debate and vowed to instead give $6 million to veterans’ charities. That didn’t happen.

Fahrenthold began asking specific charities if they ever received the money, and most hadn’t seen a dime. Turns out the final amount of the donation was more than a million dollars short, and many of the checks weren’t sent until the day an article was set to be published.

Trump counters that he’s given money to “everybody,” including the Clinton family foundation, over the years.

When pushed for further proof of Trump’s supposed generosity, campaign manager Kellyanne Conway challenged CNN’s Alisynn Camerota, snapping, “Why?  Are you calling him a liar?”

In a way, she was.

Trump claims to give heaps of money to charities – but he’s giving away other people’s money.

Hard facts

It’s impossible to prove that Trump, himself, has given any personal money to charities except a few notable exceptions.

When Donald Trump “gives” money to charity, it usually comes from the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

As Washington Post’s Fahrenthold reports, the foundation has been “retooled” to help Trump appear charitable without actually using his own funds.

…tax records show Trump has not given any money to his namesake foundation since 2008. Instead, Trump retooled his foundation to give away other people’s money: Since 2008, Trump has taken in millions from donors and given it away under his foundation’s name.

Trump bought a six-foot self-portrait with $20,000 from foundation funds.

He also bought a signed Tim Tebow helmet for $12,000, which, if kept for himself, would be a violation of self-dealing laws.

Sometimes Trump’s charitable endeavors paid dividends to his commercial businesses as well.

A recent investigation by Buzzfeed shows that Trump’s foundation often contributes to charities, which in turn pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to host galas at Trump properties, like Mar-a-Lago in Florida.

These events, according to Buzzfeed, cost north of $200,000 to host.

In the end, Trump reportedly donates his foundation’s money to the charity, and his business pockets the hundreds of thousands of dollars collected for hosting fees.

Legal probe

The only proven legal wrongdoing by Trump’s charity thus far involved a $25,000 contribution to a fund related to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi as her office was simultaneously mulling a probe of Trump University.

That illegal contribution eventually came to light and the Trump Foundation paid a $2,500 fine.

More issues could arise as New York AG Eric Schneiderman, who oversees enforcement of non-profit laws in New York, digs into the foundation’s books.

Trump’s campaign dismissed in the inquest as a political hit job by the Democratic attorney general, but Schneiderman strongly pushed back on those claims Wednesday.

Meanwhile, House Democrats have recently urged the Department of Justice to launch a criminal probe of Trump’s foundation.

Trump and his staff ardently deny any wrongdoing.

Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales

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