Where is the Money Raised at Trump’s Veterans Fundraiser?
WASHINGTON, March 3, 2016—On January 28 Republican frontrunner Donald Trump held a fundraiser for veterans in lieu of participating in the Fox News Republican presidential debate. At the event, Trump announced he had raised over $6 million, including a $1 million personal donation, for veterans’ charities. However, over a month later, it is unclear whether the majority of the organizations named by Trump have received money. Furthermore, the amounts that have been received by a number of the charities total much less than $6 million.
There have been questions regarding Trump’s fundraiser from the beginning. After pressure from the press to reveal which charities would benefit, the Trump campaign provided a list of 22 veterans’ charities.
Eyebrows were raised immediately when the fundraiser website indicated that instead of going to a separate veterans’ charity, all donations went to Trump’s personal foundation, the Donald J Trump Foundation. There is also a question as to whether the fundraiser was even legal under regulations governing 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations like the Donald J Trump Foundation.
Finally, many have begun to question what exactly is being done with the money promised to veterans. So far, news outlets have only been able to account for distribution of $800,000 out of the $6 million Trump claims to have raised.
The money went into Trump’s personal foundation, not a veterans’ foundation
There were questions about Trump’s fundraiser from the outset, beginning with the website https://www.donaldtrumpforvets.com/, created by the Trump campaign to collect donations connected to the fundraiser.
At the top of the page, the website states “100% of your donations will go directly to Veterans needs.” However, the truth is that 100% of the donations go to The Donald J Trump Foundation, as stated at the bottom of the same page,
“The Donald J Trump Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. An email confirmation with a summary of your donation will be sent to the email address provided above.”
The fact that the money went directly to the Donald J Trump Foundation has raised several concerns regarding how and when the money will be distributed, given the Trump Foundation’s record.
“Mr. Trump has been a major supporter of Veterans organizations throughout his life and has made strengthening our military, reforming the VA and taking care of our great Veterans cornerstones of his campaign,” the Trump campaign January 28 press release stated.
However, according to a 2015 analysis by Forbes, out of a total of $5.5 million donated to charities by the Trump Foundation between 2009 and 2013, only $57,00 was donated to seven organizations that directly benefit veterans. The Forbes analysis also found that Trump had not made any personal contributions to his foundation during that period.
Was the fundraiser even legal?
An article in the Examiner raised the question of whether Trump’s fundraiser was legal, given the connection between the Trump campaign and the Trump Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The IRS fact sheet on 501(c)(3)s, states “Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”
The fundraiser was clearly a campaign event, billed as such by Trump and posted on the campaign’s website. Trump campaign staff has been closely involved with the distribution of the money raised at the event, and there is clear proof that even Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s presidential campaign manager, has been involved in answering media questions intended for the Trump Foundation.
“This isn’t how legitimate 501(c)(3)s are run. The Trump Foundation should have a full-time staff that handles the disbursement of checks to the organization it supports,” says The Examiner. “It’s clear that isn’t the case. What’s clear is that employees of Mr. Trump’s campaign organization have responded to requests for information directed to the Trump Foundation.”
Additionally, the Trump campaign contacted Keith Howard, executive director of Liberty House, a small New Hampshire veterans group, and said that Trump wanted to hand him a six-figure check at a campaign rally. Howard refused, stating that appearing at a political rally could jeopardize his group’s status as a 501(c)(3).
It is disturbing that Trump, the Trump Foundation and the Trump campaign were either not aware of the restrictions regarding 501(c)(3)s or didn’t care. It is also concerning that they seem to not have known or cared about the consequences that their actions would have on the tax status of the organizations they purportedly want to help.
“Mr. Trump has a fleet of attorneys on speed dial. What this suggests is that Mr. Trump doesn’t have a real campaign organization,” says the Examiner. “A full-fledged campaign organization has an attorney on staff to prevent situations like these. Mr. Trump has insisted that he’ll make America great again because he’ll hire a great staff to manage the nation.”
So far, if his campaign organization is indicative of Trump’s organization if elected president, concerns about his fitness to be President continue to grow.
Where is the money?
Perhaps most concerning is the fact that Trump and his campaign refuse to provide clear answers about where the $6 million has gone, how much has been distributed and who it has been distributed to.
A Fox Business investigation from February 26, almost a month after the fundraiser, found that at lest 3 of the 22 charities had not received any money, seven had received checks totaling $650,000, and the remaining 12 refused to comment or disclose whether they had received money from Trump or the amount of the donation.
In an interview with Corey Lewandowski—note again that Trump’s campaign manager is answering questions directed at the Trump Foundation—Fox Business was told that Trump intended to deliver the full $6 million to veterans’ groups. Lewandowski also told Fox that $650,000 was “significantly below the actual number,” but declined to give an exact figure.
“He’s distributed multi-millions of dollars…It was money that was pledged, and we are still collecting it,” Lewandowski said to Fox. “We are continuing to follow up with people who pledge donations…We’ve added another couple dozen organizations to the list of veteran organizations that will receive donations.”
A CNN investigation, aired on Thursday March 3, found no information about the money on Trump’s website and was unable to obtain an answer from campaign officials. CNN contacted the 22 listed charities and was able to account for a total of $800,000 given to nine of the charities.
Seven of the listed charities refused to say whether they received funds or said they got some money but refused to disclose an exact amount. One organization says it has not received anything, and the other five charities did not respond to CNN’s questions.
Charity Navigator, an organization that monitors charities, stated that the money should have been distributed by now. As early as February 26, Charity Navigator’s president, Michael Thatcher told Fox Business, “It is totally reasonable to question why some have gotten money and some haven’t. When you make a promise like he has there is an expectation for timely delivery.”
According to Thatcher, it often takes weeks to distribute donations, because vetting an organization’s tax status and other issues can take some time. However, explained Thatcher, it appeared that Trump had already vetted the organizations when he published the list.
“With that, there’s even less reason for any money to be delayed,” Thatcher said.
Trump, the Trump Foundation and the Trump campaign refuse to provide more information.