For much of the 2016 presidential campaign, there was parlor game of sorts among some who watched Donald Trump closely: what’s the worst thing this guy has ever done? The competition was fierce – Trump’s adult life hasn’t exactly been controversy-free – though my vote was the time he crashed a charitable event for a nursery school helping children with AIDS in order to falsely appear generous.
Yesterday, however, a new contender emerged.
At first blush, the story seems rather mundane. Eric Trump, one of the president’s adult sons, hosted the annual Eric Trump Foundation golf invitational in New York, and the money raised at the event went to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. Best of all, because the charitable tournament was held at his family’s course at no charge, it meant more money raised at the event could go to help sick kids.
Forbes reported yesterday, however, that not all of the money went to St. Jude.
In reviewing filings from the Eric Trump Foundation and other charities, it’s clear that the course wasn’t free – that the Trump Organization received payments for its use, part of more than $1.2 million that has no documented recipients past the Trump Organization. Golf charity experts say the listed expenses defy any reasonable cost justification for a one-day golf tournament.
Additionally, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which has come under previous scrutiny for self-dealing and advancing the interests of its namesake rather than those of charity, apparently used the Eric Trump Foundation to funnel $100,000 in donations into revenue for the Trump Organization.
And while donors to the Eric Trump Foundation were told their money was going to help sick kids, more than $500,000 was re-donated to other charities, many of which were connected to Trump family members or interests, including at least four groups that subsequently paid to hold golf tournaments at Trump courses.
The report led to unflattering headlines like this one in Slate: “Trump Accused of Laundering Money Through Pediatric Cancer Charity.”
On Twitter, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes added, “Kinda looks like the President stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from a charity for kids with cancer?”
It’s worth emphasizing that while it’s true that Donald Trump originally made the golf course available to his son’s foundation at no cost, after 2010, the future president “specifically commanded that the for-profit Trump Organization start billing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the nonprofit Eric Trump Foundation, according to two people directly involved.”
And if you’re wondering how such dealings could be legal, they may not be. Forbes’ piece added, “All of this seems to defy federal tax rules and state laws that ban self-dealing and misleading donors.”
I don’t imagine we’ve heard the last of this one.