The first real sign of trouble came earlier this year. In January, in the middle of a spat with Fox News, Donald Trump boycotted a debate in Iowa, instead holding a fundraiser for veterans. The Republican boasted at the time that he’d raised $6 million for vets, and he’d contributed $1 million out of his own pocket.
The story unraveled once the Washington Post started asking about the money, and some of Trump’s claims turned out to be wrong. Most notably, in May, his campaign said Trump had already made a $1 million contribution, which wasn’t true.
Putting aside the question about what kind of person lies about veterans’ charities, it wasn’t long before others started pulling on the same thread.
BuzzFeed, for example, found that Trump received $2 million to advise Mike Tyson on the boxer’s business decisions, and he said the money would go to charities. There’s no evidence that ever happened. In 1989, Trump said proceeds from his game show would go to charities, but there’s no evidence that happened, either.
Politico reported that Trump claimed the proceeds of his dealings with Muammar Gadhafi would go to charities, but there’s still no proof to substantiate the promise. And the Huffington Post reported that the proceeds of Trump’s board game were also supposed to go to charities, but – you guessed it – there’s nothing to suggest any charity ever received a dime.
The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold has done quite a bit of digging on this front and reported today that despite Trump’s promises about millions of dollars in charitable contributions, an investigation turned up less than $10,000 in donations over the last seven years.
In recent weeks, The Post tried to answer the question by digging up records going back to the late 1980s and canvassing a wide swath of nonprofits with some connection to Trump.That research showed that Trump has a long-standing habit of promising to give to charity. But Trump’s follow-through on those promises was middling…. In the 1980s, Trump pledged to give away royalties from his first book to fight AIDS and multiple sclerosis. But he gave less to those causes than he did to his older daughter’s ballet school. In recent years, Trump’s follow-through on his promises has been seemingly nonexistent.
Under normal political rules, this is the sort of thing that could bury a presidential candidate. It’s not just a question about greed or stinginess, it’s also one about honesty.
Trump set up a foundation many years ago to help dispense his charitable donations, and the Post found that, in years past, Trump gave $2.8 million to this foundation. That, however, is less than a third of what he’d pledged, and records suggest he hasn’t made a donation to the foundation since 2008.
It’s possible, of course, that the New York Republican has made other contributions, outside of his foundation, but neither Trump nor his campaign have provided anyone with evidence to that effect.
Trump’s tax returns could shed additional light on this, but at least for now, the presumptive GOP nominee is prepared to be the first major-party candidate since Watergate to refuse to release these tax records and documents.
The Washington Post added that it “contacted 167 charities searching for evidence of personal gifts from Trump in the period between 2008 and this May.” Each of the charities had some direct connection to Trump, “either because he had given them his foundation’s money, appeared at their charity galas or praised them publicly.”
In all, the search turned up “just one donation in that period – a 2009 gift of between $5,000 and $9,999 to the Police Athletic League of New York City”
Obviously, this doesn’t include the $1 million donation Trump made recently to a veterans’ charity – money his campaign was caught fibbing about last month.
Making matters slightly worse, this story connects directly to his “Trump University” scandal. The operation, accused of being an elaborate scam, was supposed to make money that Trump would then give away through charitable donations, but after Trump made $5 million from the venture, every penny went towards the “school’s” legal defense.
Politico, meanwhile, raised some related legal questions last week.
If Donald Trump’s claims that certain of his commercial ventures benefit charity are untrue, he could be held liable under Section 349 of New York’s General Business Law, which forbids deceptive business acts and practices, as well as under charitable solicitation laws, according to legal experts.In promoting products as varied as Trump University, Trump Vodka, a Trump board game, and his new book “Crippled America,” the businessman has declared that the proceeds would go to charity. None of Trump’s proceeds from Trump University have gone to charity, and only a few hundred dollars of charitable giving related to Trump Vodka has been accounted for. News organizations have been unable to verify his other claims, and his representatives have been unwilling to provide more information about them or even to confirm them.
Watch this space.