Trump's philanthropic boasts struggle under scrutiny

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign event on Oct. 1, 2016 at the Spooky Nook Sports Complex in Manheim, Penn. (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty)
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign event on Oct. 1, 2016 at the Spooky Nook Sports Complex in Manheim, Penn. 
For months, Donald Trump's charitable foundation has struggled to withstand scrutiny, facing one controversy after another. But even looking past the beleaguered foundation, there's a broader question about the lengths the Republican presidential hopeful has gone to give the appearance of generosity, without the necessary follow-through.The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold reported over the weekend:

For as long as he has been rich and famous, Donald Trump has also wanted people to believe he is generous. He spent years constructing an image as a philanthropist by appearing at charity events and by making very public -- even nationally televised -- promises to give his own money away.It was, in large part, a facade. A months-long investigation by The Washington Post has not been able to verify many of Trump’s boasts about his philanthropy.Instead, throughout his life in the spotlight, whether as a businessman, television star or presidential candidate, The Post found that Trump had sought credit for charity he had not given -- or had claimed other people’s giving as his own.

The article featured a doozy of a story from 1996, when the Association to Benefit Children held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new nursery school serving children with AIDS. A variety of major New York figures and donors were on hand, including Donald Trump.The trouble, as it turns out, is that Trump hadn't been invited. He simply showed up unannounced, walked onto the stage, took a seat -- a seat, as Farenthold reported, that had been assigned to a developer who had given generously to build the nursery -- and smiled for the photographers. He was even seen dancing the Macarena.Trump hadn't contributed a dime to the Association to Benefit Children. In fact, after the event, Trump "left without offering an explanation," and never wrote a check to benefit the charity.While it may seem crude to put it in these terms, according to the Post's reporting, Donald Trump effectively crashed a charity event -- for a nursery school helping children with AIDS -- in order to give people the false impression that he'd done something nice for those kids.And if you're wondering what kind of person would do such a thing, the answer, apparently, is the kind of person who may be elected president of the United States in eight days.After reading this, I tried to come up with the most (ahem) charitable interpretation possible. Maybe Trump was confused and wandered into the wrong ribbon-cutting event. Perhaps he intended to help the nursery school, but the check got lost in the mail.But the reason it's so difficult to give Trump the benefit of the doubt is his overall track record. As Slate noted, "Although Trump, particularly through his foundation, did give some money to charity over the years, much of it was self-serving and the dollar amounts of his contributions were often much less than what he made it seem."This includes the most generous contribution the Trump Foundation ever made: $264,631 to restore the Pulitzer Fountain, "a turned-off, crumbling feature" near Central Park. And while that sounds like a nice gesture, the fountain is located outside the Trump-owned Plaza Hotel, which means that the donation actually served to benefit part of his broader real-estate enterprise.As Brian Galle, a professor of tax law at Georgetown University, told the Post, “It shows you what this [foundation] is all about. Which is basically just about advancing Trump’s interests."