by Peter Elkind
As America’s coronavirus crisis has mushroomed, President Donald Trump has repeatedly touted the efforts of businesses to meet a desperate nation’s needs. “It’s been really amazing to see these big, strong, powerful — in some cases, very small companies, family-owned companies — step up and make a lot of great product for what we’re going through and what we will continue to be going through for a while,” Trump declared on March 24.
His press conferences have sometimes seemed like a parade of CEOs, from the leaders of retail and pharmaceutical giants like Walmart and Roche to chiefs of relative mites like MyPillow. Vice President Mike Pence and Ivanka Trump have chimed in, too, lauding one hotel chain for offering free rooms to doctors, nurses and medical first responders.
“America’s Private Sector is stepping up to help us be STRONG!” President Trump tweeted around the same time.
As for the president’s own private business? It doesn’t appear to be “stepping up.”
ProPublica examined the seven hotel properties and dozen U.S. country clubs owned by the Trump Organization and could find no sign that any are taking the sorts of civic-minded steps the president has urged.
One example is New York. As coronavirus cases multiplied, Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked hotel owners to donate their properties (already shuttered or largely empty) for emergency use by medical personnel or noncritical patients requiring isolation. By March 26, according to a list of “significant donations” posted on the governor’s website, six had agreed to do so, including the high-end Four Seasons, St. Regis and Plaza hotels. “Proud to see NY’s hotels stepping up!” the governor tweeted on March 26.
The Trump International Hotel and Tower, with 176 rooms and suites overlooking Central Park, is not among them. Instead, at a moment when New York City, enduring the nation’s worst pandemic onslaught, is under a shelter-in-place order, the Trumps’ Manhattan hotel remains open for paying guests. (Rooms, according to the hotel’s website, start at $525 a night.)
The New York governor’s list details 31 contributions from “major corporations, philanthropic organizations and celebrities” aimed at increasing the state’s “supply capacity” amid the pandemic’s surge. It includes donations from Goldman Sachs (195,000 masks); Facebook (2,500 gallons of hand sanitizer), and TV host Kelly Ripa and her husband ($1 million cash). The name “Trump” does not appear on the list.
ProPublica sent emails with specific questions to a spokesperson for the Trump Organization, as well as to executive vice presidents Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Alan Garten. ProPublica also left voicemail messages for Donald Trump Jr. None responded.
It is possible that the Trumps have engaged in unseen acts of charity connected to the pandemic. The Trumps, however, have not been known to hide deeds for which they might receive favorable public attention.
New York is not the only example. In Chicago, the mayor’s office has made arrangements for more than 1,000 rooms at five hotels to be used by medical personnel and patients requiring isolation when the number of local cases peaks. The city is paying $175 a night for the space. The Trump International Hotel and Tower, with 339 rooms and suites, is not among them.
Samir Mayekar, Chicago’s deputy mayor for economic and neighborhood development, said the program, aimed at easing the burden on local hospitals, has received “an outpouring of support from dozens of interested hotels” in “an immense time of public need.” He said the city has enough interest to bring another thousand or more hotel rooms into the program if they’re needed. As for the Trumps’ Chicago hotel? “I’ve not seen that facility on the list,” Mayekar said.
Local companies and individuals have also donated $19 million to the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund, according to Mayekar, which is supported by the mayor’s office and intended to assist nonprofits “serving our most vulnerable residents.” He said the Trumps’ businesses have not donated anything to date.
In Los Angeles, where Trump operates a golf club perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the mayor has established two relief funds: The L.A. Emergency COVID-19 Crisis Fund and the Angeleno Fund. Their promoters and donors include Conan O’Brien and Russell Westbrook, according to a statement from Jeremy Bernard, who is heading up the fundraising effort. “To date, neither fund has received a donation from the Trump National Golf Club, Los Angeles, in Rancho Palos Verdes, California,” according to Bernard.
Trump’s properties, like Trump himself, have been slow to embrace medical experts’ advice for slowing the spread of the virus. In Florida, Trump’s Mar-A-Lago club, where the membership initiation fee is $200,000, remained open and seemingly disdainful of social distancing until March 21, after reports of coronavirus infections spread at crowded Trump fundraisers, a reception for Brazil’s president and a glittery party for Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, where guests danced in a conga line on March 7. This prompted Politico to describe the 20-acre resort as “a gilded petri dish.” (Eric Trump responded with a statement: “The safety of our members and guests are of our utmost importance. We are monitoring all of our businesses closely and are following the guidelines provided by the CDC.”)
Layoffs throughout the area’s resort sector sent less affluent residents of Palm Beach County reeling, prompting the Town of Palm Beach United Way to launch an emergency coronavirus fund. Marketing director Aleese Kopf said the special office for the nonprofit was established decades ago, explicitly “to raise money from millionaires and billionaires on Palm Beach island, where Mar-A-Lago is.” In Palm Beach County, she said, “it’s extreme poverty and extreme wealth.”
The Town of Palm Beach United Way helps fund 49 area social service agencies, and the pandemic has hit their clients hard, prompting residents and local businesses to contribute more than $400,000 to date. “It’s a very giving community,” Kopf said.
The group’s donors include both wealthy individuals and island clubs, including the Breakers, she said. But not Mar-A-Lago or the Trumps. “Many of our donors are members of Mar-a-Lago,” Kopf said. “They give. But we’ve never worked directly with the Trump Organization or the Mar-A-Lago Club. We’ve never been a part of their giving circle.”
Albermarle Estate, Trump’s Virginia lodge on the site of the Trump Winery, remained open until this week. The Charlottesville Albermarle Convention & Visitors Bureau, after approaching all area hotels, listed six that were providing special discounts to medical workers and first responders. Trump’s hotel is not among them.
In many of the communities where the Trumps have properties, emergency pandemic needs have already become clear. In Las Vegas, the Trumps’ 64-story, 1,282-room hotel shut down in mid-March, complying with a statewide order. Many of the hotels and casinos forced to abruptly close around that time provided huge quantities of unused food to the area’s Three Square Food Bank. The food bank has now opened six drive-through locations to safely meet dramatically increased need from the “food-insecure” in its six-county region, said Larry Scott, the nonprofit’s chief operating officer.
The total from the first two days after the hotel shutdown alone came to about 180 tons, according to Scott, with big donations coming from the MGM, Wynn, Boyd Gaming, Station Casinos and Caesars, among others — “most all” of the area hotels and casinos. Hotels have also made cash contributions. “We have been very richly blessed with financial donations from the hospitality industry,” Scott said.
The food bank has never received anything from the Trumps’ Las Vegas property. “No, they have not been a donor,” Scott said.
The Trump family also has a decidedly mixed record with regard to charitable giving. As The Washington Post first revealed, the Donald J. Trump Foundation raised all the funds it donated from 2009 onward from others — not from the Trumps themselves. Many of the donations were made to groups that held events at Trump’s properties.
The foundation was shut down in 2018, following a New York attorney general’s investigation and lawsuit that confirmed multiple episodes of improper self-dealing — charity expenditures made to promote his presidential campaign and to pay his business debts. (Trump denied any wrongdoing.) In a 2019 settlement, a state judge ordered Trump to give $2 million to eight approved charities, and his three adult children — all officers of the foundation — were required to undergo ethics training on the duties of nonprofit directors.
The Eric Trump Foundation has raised millions for terminally ill children at St. Jude hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. After Forbes reported that it had spent several hundred thousand dollars on events at Trump properties and had diverted donations to other causes, prompting another attorney general’s investigation, it replaced most of its directors in 2017 and renamed itself Curetivity. (At the time, Eric Trump said he was “disappointed” by the story and added: “It seems like there is a motive against either myself or my family.”)
Early last month, the White House announced that Trump was donating $100,000 — 25% of his presidential salary — to aid the coronavirus fight, by giving it to the Department of Health and Human Services. The money, however, wasn’t a new gift — just an allocation of his pledge, upon taking office, to forego any salary throughout his time in the White House.
The hotel industry has been among the hardest hit in corporate America, with many of the relatively few hotels that remain open enduring occupancy in the single digits. (Trump’s 263-room Washington hotel has had around 10 guests in recent days, according to John Boardman, who heads the D.C. affiliate of Unite Here, the union representing the hotel’s workers.) The industry’s trade group, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, urgently lobbied the Trump administration and Congress for federal bailout aid. (Trump has declined to answer questions about whether his private business would seek federal aid. Congressional Democrats added a provision aimed at explicitly barring him and son-in-law Jared Kushner from reaping such benefits, but the measure reportedly contains loopholes that might make it possible for their businesses to collect such money anyway.)
The hotel industry group has also promoted a national Hospitality for Hope program. According to the organization, it has identified 15,000 properties close to health care facilities that “are at the ready” to provide temporary housing for medical workers and first responders. The group has not publicly identified what hotel companies are participating and declined to respond to a question about whether any of the Trump hotels are participating.
And New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city will rent thousands of hotel rooms for COVID-19 patients who need hospitalization but not intensive care. De Blasio has not yet announced which hotels will be part of the initiative.
Alice Wilder and Katherine Sullivan, WNYC, and Doris Burke, ProPublica, contributed reporting.