Donald Trump hasn’t donated to his own foundation since 2008, investigation finds

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Asheville, North Carolina, U.S., September 12, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Segar - RTSNG36

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Recently, Hillary Clinton has been criticized for allegedly giving special access to Clinton Foundation donors when she served as secretary of state.

But now Donald Trump is catching heat for how his foundation has functioned.

I’m joined by David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post, who has spent the past few months digging into the Republican nominee’s history of charitable donations and his lack of personal contributions to the Trump Foundation.

David Fahrenthold, thank you for talking with us.

Tell us first a little bit about the foundation. How is it set up? How is it different from other foundations?

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, The Washington Post: Well, it’s quite a small foundation.

Trump started it in 1987. And in contrast to other people who have about as much money as Trump has, it doesn’t have very much money in at all. The most money it ever had was about $3.3 million in 2009. The most money it has now is about $1 million total. So, there’s no paid staff. The board of it is just four Trumps, Donald, Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka, and one Trump Organization employee.

They all work with no pay. They work half-an-hour a week. The most unusual thing about it is not just that it’s small, but whose money is in it. Donald Trump hasn’t put any money into his own foundation until 2008. Instead, he’s got other people to donate. And then he sort of gives their money to away to people who under the impression that they’re getting Donald Trump’s money.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, when you say other people have put money in, what sort of people are we talking about?

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: Well, a lot of them don’t want to talk.

But the biggest donation you can see in tax filings is from Vince and Linda McMahon, the WWE moguls. Trump was on WrestleMania in 2007. And in that year and 2009, the McMahons gave a total of $5 million. Now, we know that wasn’t Trump’s payment for WrestleMania. He got paid separately, but about the same time, they made this $5 million donation.

The other biggest donor has been this guy Richard Ebers, who is a sort of high-end ticket broker, like tickets to events, in New York City. He gives every year between $450,000 and $600,000, always in very odd amounts. It’s never an even amount.

He also didn’t want to talk about why he gives to the Trump Foundation. And one of the thing big gifts has been from NBC Universal, which televised “Celebrity Apprentice.” Trump often used his Trump Foundation money to give what he said were personal gifts out of his own pocket on the show.

NBC gave him a $500,000 gift, which served to cover the cost of all of those — quote, unquote — “personal donations.”

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what about what the foundation has given money to? Is there a pattern, is there a mission, a particular cause that Donald Trump has been interested in?

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: Well, that’s really interesting as well.

A lot of times, you see rich people who start their own private foundations, they are — as you said, there is an abiding cause. They give to their alma mater, they give to cancer research, they give to something like that.

With Trump, there is no such abiding cause like that. It’s always — the money is given out in relatively small amounts, between $5,000 and $50,000, and it’s to a smattering of groups. Often, he’s buying a table at a gala or something like that.

The biggest correlation you find is with Trump’s own personal and business interests. He lives in Palm Beach part of the year, where charity galas are a big part of the life. And he runs a club in Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago, that depends a lot on being rented out by charities, who can pay as much as $275,000 per night to rent out his club.

So he gives to those charities that do business with him. And this enables him to sort of give to those groups without actually using his own money.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You have also — you also wrote, David Fahrenthold, that the Trump Foundation at least in once instance, actually in several instances, to political causes or political candidates.

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: Well, there’s one case in particular.

So, giving to a political group is against the law. If you’re a nonprofit, you can’t give money to a political group. And in 2013, they did that. They gave to this group called And Justice for All, which was a political campaign committee helping Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who at the time just happened to be considering, her office was considering, whether to pursue an investigation against Trump University.

They later on, after the money came in, decided not to pursue that investigation. Trump paid that money out of the Trump Foundation, which is against the law. And this year, after we pointed it out, he paid a penalty tax to the IRS of $2,500, which was 10 percent of the donation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So they’re not under any legal cloud at this point?

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: Well, what’s interesting is, there is another side to that gift, which is, not only did Trump’s foundation make that prohibited political gift, but they also sent filing to the IRS which contained an error that served to cover up the illegal gift that they made.

Now, they said that error was inadvertent, but it was a great coincidence that the same year they made a $25,000 gift to this group they shouldn’t have, they told the IRS they had given $25,000 to another group, which would have been legal if they had actually sent them any money.

That’s something the IRS could investigate. We don’t know if it actually is.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, we have to point out that the Trump campaign, Mr. Trump himself, says he’s actually given away millions of dollars over the years.

What do we know about that in any form?

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: You’re right.

He’s said over the years that he’s given the proceeds of a variety of things, books, TV shows, to charity, and it adds up to millions of dollars. He said he gives millions of dollars.

So, what I have done over the last few months is go looking for evidence that those gifts exist. I’m not trying the find all of them. I’m just trying to find some evidence that they’re out there. So, so far, I have called 326 charities. Now, these are charities that seem closest to Trump, people he’s given Trump Foundation money to, he’s gone to their galas, he’s spoken positively of these charities.

I have called 326 looking for evidence that there were these personal gifts from Trump out of his pocket. And between 2008 and this May, I found just one gift out of his own pocket. That was in 2009. It was for less than $10,000.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, when you ask the campaign about that, what do they say, when you have asked them for evidence of the giving?

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: They have been very slippery on this.

The last couple of days, they have said Trump gives tens of millions of dollars away, or he has given tens of millions of dollars away. But that answer includes gifts from the foundation, gifts of free rounds of golf from his golf club to local charities. They even sort of implied that it might include just the salaries that he gives to his workers, that he’s helping people by paying them to do work for him.

So, they haven’t broken down how much Trump actually gives out of his pocket, and they seem to be determined not to do that. I have asked for that a number of times. And I have gotten no details on that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I know that you will continue to be reporting on this.

David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post, thanks very much.

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: Thank you.

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