Not one of the donations on a list provided by Donald Trump's campaign was a personal gift from the GOP front-runner's own money, The Washington Post reports

By Tierney McAfee
April 11, 2016 04:35 PM
Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Ever since he kicked off his presidential campaign last June, billionaire businessman Donald Trump has touted his history of giving to good causes, with his campaign saying he’s donated more than $102 million to charity over the past five years.

But according to a new Washington Post analysis, not one of those donations was a personal gift from the GOP front-runner’s own money.

Many of the thousands of gifts cited on a 93-page list Trump’s campaign provided to the Associated Press last year were free rounds of golf, donated by his courses for charity auctions and raffles, The Post reports.

The majority of the gifts in the document came from the real estate mogul’s charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation – however, the most recent tax records available show that Trump did not personally give any money to his foundation from 2009 through 2014. The funding for the foundation is provided largely by other people, most notably World Wrestling Entertainment executives Vince and Linda McMahon. (The couple donated $5 million to the foundation after Trump made a cameo on Wrestlemania in 2007, a spokesman for WWE tells The Post.)

Trump has often used the foundation to donate to friends’ charities and groups that do business at his clubs and hotels. Some recipients are not even charities at all, but rather clients, other businesses, “conservatives who could help promote Trump’s rise in the Republican party” and tennis star Serena Williams.

The list provided by Trump’s campaign “reveals how Trump has demonstrated less of the soaring, world-changing ambitions in his philanthropy than many other billionaires. Instead, his giving appears narrowly tied to his business and, now, his political interests,” per The Post.

Asked for comment on The Post‘s analysis, a top Trump aide acknowledged that none of the items in the document were cash donations from Trump himself, but added that the list was not a complete tally of the billionaire’s gifts.

The aide, Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, added that Trump had in fact given personal cash gifts over the years, but declined to offer any proof.

“We want to keep them quiet,” said Weisselberg, who is also treasurer of the Trump Foundation. “He doesn’t want other charities to see it. Then it becomes like a feeding frenzy.”

The Post, which interviewed recipients on the list to help identify the gifts, estimated that, in his $102 million tally, Trump included at least 2,900 free rounds of golf, 175 free hotel stays, 165 free meals and 11 gift certificates to spas provided by his businesses.

Of course, these products and amenities do have considerable financial value. “I thought it would be a pretty hot ticket, [and] it was,” said Marion Satterthwaite, who auctioned off a free round of golf donated by Trump’s private club in Colts Neck, New Jersey, at an event for her charity benefiting U.S. service members.

Trump’s list valued a round of golf at that club at $1,720. Satterthwaite said that, in her case, it sold for less.

The most expensive contributions on the list were land-conservation agreements to forgo development rights on property Trump owns.

“In California, for example, Trump agreed to an easement that prevented him from building homes on a plot of land near a golf course,” The Post writes. “But Trump kept the land, and kept making money off it. It is a driving range.”

The paper noted that Trump does still make some “splashy public gifts,” citing one incident in which he offered to pay off the bills of a struggling viewer during a 2009 appearance on Extra. The rules of that contest stated: “The winner must live in New York, provide their own transportation to Trump Tower, and be willing to meet Donald on-camera to accept his check.” The winner’s $5,000 check came from the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

On Saturday, Trump made another donation through his foundation – a highly publicized $100,000 gift to the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York.

Some recipients approve of the Trump Foundation’s informal approach to charitable giving. Barbara Abernathy, whose charity for children with cancer received a $1,000-donation from Trump after she met him at a Mar-a-Lago gala, tells the paper, “[At] a lot of [other] foundations, you know, there’s a grant process.”

But Leslie Lenkow sky, a faculty member at Indiana University’s school of philanthropy says, “He’s using [the foundation] as a kind of checkbook, with other people’s money. Not a good model. It’s not wrong. It’s not unique. But it’s poor philanthropy.”

As for Trump’s $1,136.56-donation to “Serena William Group” in February 2015, a spokeswoman for the tennis star said it was related to a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new tennis center that Williams attended at Trump’s Loudoun County, Virginia, golf course.

But Trump didn’t donate to Williams’ charity. Instead, he gave her a free ride from Florida on his plane and a free framed photo of herself.