According to Forbes, Donald Trump redirected more than $1 million in charitable donations intended for kids with cancer to the Trump Organization, making himself and his cronies richer. Turns out, that’s not the first story proving even terminally ill children are no match for Trump's greed and cruelty.
Earlier this year, Michael Skolnik appeared on the Politically Re-Active podcast, where he relayed a similar story about then-citizen Trump (it starts at about 28:20). Skolnik is a longtime business partner of Def Jam founder and billionaire Russell Simmons, who had a high-profile falling out with Trump during the presidential campaign:
“I sat next to Donald at a dinner one time at the Waldorf-Astoria for a charity event,” Skolnik recounted. “This is three or four years ago. It was for a very rare children’s disease. The guy whose table it was, who was a friend of Donald and a friend of Russell’s, got onstage and pledged a million dollars to this charity and said to the audience in the Waldorf, ‘Who’s going to match me?’ And—I’ll go under oath, [swear on] my grandfather’s grave, may my grandfather rest in peace—Trump was sitting right next to me and he raised his hand. He was like, ‘A million bucks. I’m in!'” And the whole place exploded in craziness. Here was $2 million raised in 15 seconds for this amazing charity. And David Fahrenthold from the Washington Post saw a picture of me at the event and called me during the election and said, ‘Do you remember what happened?’ I said, 'Yeah, Donald pledged a million bucks, check it out.' And he went and looked at it and Donald gave nothing. Literally zero dollars.”
Withholding charitable donations from dying children is generally considered among the lowest of the lows humanity can reach, so it should come as no surprise that Donald Trump has touched the bottom. More than once, apparently. While the details of the Skolnik story differ from the findings of the Forbes investigation, the theme of Trump’s selfishness and power-grubbing remain the same.
In the case examined by Forbes, Trump overcharged his son’s charity for use of his golf club and other amenities in order to turn a profit. Eric Trump’s foundation held its inaugural golf tournament in 2007. The Trump scion assured donors—who paid anywhere “from $3,000 for a single all-day ticket to $100,000 for a pair of VIP foursome”—they didn’t have to worry about funds being misused, since the facilities and services were free, gifted by his father. Forbes found that wasn’t exactly true, but in the early years, costs were at least on par with standard expenditures for charity events, at about $46,000 each year. That figure reportedly jumped threefold once the elder Trump realized his son’s charity was getting a major discount from his club, meaning the Trump Organization wasn’t profiting off the cancer-stricken kids it was meant to benefit. From Forbes:
[I]n 2011, things took a turn. Costs for Eric Trump's tournament jumped from $46,000 to $142,000, according to the foundation's IRS filings. Why would the price of the tournament suddenly triple in one year? "In the early years, they weren't being billed [for the club]—the bills would just disappear," says Ian Gillule, who served as membership and marketing director at Trump National Westchester during two stints from 2006 to 2015 and witnessed how Donald Trump reacted to the tournament's economics. "Mr. Trump had a cow. He flipped. He was like, 'We're donating all of this stuff, and there's no paper trail? No credit?' And he went nuts. He said, 'I don't care if it's my son or not—everybody gets billed.'"
The Forbes investigation also turned up evidence that the Donald J. Trump Foundation used Eric’s charity to create an appearance of giving while profiting. According to the article, the DJT Foundation “donated $100,000 to the Eric Trump Foundation—a gift explicitly made, according to Gillule, to offset the increased budget.” That money ultimately “passed through the Eric Trump Foundation—and wound up in the coffers of Donald Trump's private businesses.” Forbes compares the deceptiveness of the whole operation as being on par with “a drug cartel's money-laundering operation.”
Forbes attempted to make mathematical sense of the sky-high costs Eric Trump’s charity was billed by his father’s company in recent years. IRS records indicate those charges rose to $230,000 in 2013, and continued climbing, hitting $322,000 in 2015. The outlet talked to Eric Trump himself, who stuck with his story that nearly every good and service, from drinks to appearances by entertainers to the rental of the golf course itself, had been donated free of charge. When Forbes asked for an itemized budget that might explain the costs the club imposed, the Eric Trump Foundation “declined to respond.”
Thus it's hard to figure out what happened to the money. All the listed costs are direct expenses: Items like overhead and salaries appear elsewhere in its IRS filings. Even if the Eric Trump Foundation had to pay the full rate for literally everything, Forbes couldn't come up with a plausible path to $322,000 given the parameters of the annual event (a golf outing for about 200 and dinner for perhaps 400 more). Neither could golf tournament experts or the former head golf professional at Trump National Westchester. "If you gave me that much money to run a tournament, I couldn't imagine what we could do," says Patrick Langan, who worked at the club from 2006 to 2015. "It certainly wasn't done that way."
Forbes points to a shift in board membership at the Eric Trump Foundation as a possible starting point for when the fuzzy accounting began. The magazine notes that a group that was previously comprised of friends of Eric suddenly became filled with employees of the senior Trump’s business. Langan, the golf club employee, told Forbes that the charity and Trump’s bottom line became so entwined that the two causes essentially became one.
"You're dealing with people talking about the event and the charity who also at the same time are thinking about it as a corporation and as a business,” Langan told Forbes. “It's a for-profit club. You know, they're trying to make money."
Eric Trump shut down his charity back in December after questions arose around many of the same issues. A Daily Beast report from months earlier concluded that "the Eric Trump Foundation [paid] hundreds of thousands over the last 10 years to host lavish fundraising events at Donald Trump’s golf courses.” The suspension of activity came after the charity tried to auction off an event headlined “Enjoy Coffee with Ivanka Trump in NYC or DC.” The bidding had climbed nearly to $78,000 before negative press led to the listing being pulled.