When it comes to transparency, Donald Trump's brief career in politics has consistently come up far short. We are, after all, talking about a president with secret tax returns, secret visitor logs, and secret customers to his privately owned businesses.
But we've also been keeping an eye on Trump's inaugural committee, which by some metrics, was a great success. After his election, the Republican eliminated caps on individual contributions -- caps that George W. Bush and Barack Obama both utilized -- and sold "exclusive access" for seven-figure contributions.
The result was a fundraising juggernaut: Trump's inaugural committee took in nearly $107 million, much of which went unspent during poorly attended festivities.
Whatever happened to that money? USA Today pulled on the thread this week.
Nearly a year after President Trump's inauguration, the committee that raised a record $106.7 million for the event has not disclosed how much surplus money it still has or provided a final accounting of its finances."We must decline comment at this time," Kristin Celauro, a spokeswoman for the inaugural committee's chairman, Thomas Barrack, said this week in response to a USA TODAY inquiry about the committee's finances.
The plan, apparently, was for the committee to donate excess funds to charity, and Trump World planned to release details about those contributions in April. That didn't happen.
Five months later, in September, the committee said it would donate $3 million to three non-profit groups, but we don't yet know if those contributions were made or how much of the leftover funds that money constitutes.
USA Today's report added:
Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for first lady Melania Trump, has said some of the leftover funds went to renovation to the White House and the Naval Observatory, where Vice President Pence and his family live. This week, Grisham referred a question to the inaugural committee about the amount spent.Steve Kerrigan, who served as chief of staff for Obama's first inaugural committee and chairman for his second inauguration, said it was "entirely appropriate" to use surplus money for renovations to the White House. Obama did the same and also funded some public outreach programs, such as the Easter Egg Roll, with the leftover donations.But Kerrigan, who is running for Congress from Massachusetts, said it's "shocking" that Trump's team is not disclosing more information about how they are spending the record amount they collected for relatively modest celebrations. Trump attended three official balls, for instance, compared to Obama's 10.
Kerrigan added, "It is alarming that you would potentially have at least $50 million left over and no sense of how it was spent."
And that appears to be where things currently stand. Making matters slightly worse, Tom Barrack, a friend of the president's who heads the inaugural committee, told the Associated Press last year that there's already been an audit of the committee's finances, but the committee "would not share a copy with AP or say who performed it."
The more it seems like Trump World has something to hide, the more I'm curious what that might be.