DOCUMENT: Celebrity

Trump Made No Donations To 9/11 Charities

Billionaire was a zero in aftermath of terror attack

View Document

Trump's Empathy Gap

NOVEMBER 3--In the aftermath of the 2001 terror attack on the World Trade Center, Donald Trump, a billionaire son of New York City, did not make a single charitable donation to any of the not-for-profit groups that provided aid to survivors, rescue workers, or the families of cops and firemen who died trying to save others, Internal Revenue Service records show.

While business moguls raced to write seven-figure checks and schoolchildren emptied their piggy banks, Trump’s charitable foundation--the vehicle through which the Republican presidential candidate’s philanthropy trickles--apparently did not feel the need or responsibility to offer such financial help.

Trump, who frequently reminds the public that he is worth TEN BILLION DOLLARS, is president of the Donald J. Trump Charitable Foundation, which the developer founded nearly 30 years ago.

The group’s annual tax returns--the most recent of which was filed in late-2014, offer insights into Trump’s philanthropy, as well as the 69-year-old businessman’s aversion to personally funding his eponymous foundation. Unlike most financial proclamations emanating from “The Donald,” the IRS records are not subject to the inflationary whim for which Trump is famous.

In a December 2003 report detailing the “unprecedented outpouring of charitable support” following the 9/11 attacks, The Foundation Center noted that nearly 1300 foundations, corporations, and other institutional donors gave a total of $1.1 billion for recovery and relief efforts. “The sweeping breadth of the response has proven a milestone for philanthropy,” the report declared.

But Trump, whose family first became wealthy renting apartments to the working class in Brooklyn and Queens, chose not to take part in that “unprecedented outpouring” in his hometown.

Since 2001, the Trump foundation’s tax returns contain a single donation that is identifiable with a 9/11 charity. In 2006, Trump gave $1000 to a controversial Scientology program that administered treatment to firemen who inhaled toxins while working on the World Trade Center pile. The New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Fund, co-founded by actor Tom Cruise, relied on a “Purification Rundown” invented by L. Ron Hubbard, the crackpot founder of Scientology.

In recent campaign interviews, Trump--who has long delighted in viciously denigrating opponents and critics--has sought to portray himself as a candidate who cares.

“I think I have a bigger heart than all of them,” Trump told Bloomberg TV as a preclude to noting that, “the World Trade Center came down” while George W. Bush was president. Trump last month assured The New York Times Magazine that he was the kind of person who could lead and comfort citizens in the wake of tragedies and disasters. Empathy, Trump claimed, “will be one of the strongest things about Trump.”  He added, “When I’m in that position, when we have horrible hurricanes, all kinds of horrible things happen, you’ve got to have empathy.”

But Trump has shown no capacity for such compassion, at least as expressed through his bulging bank accounts.

In addition to whiffing on 9/11 charity, Trump made no donations to organizations providing aid in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast areas in 2005.

When not reminding voters of his 11-figure, three-comma net worth, Trump makes sure to mention that he is the world’s preeminent real estate developer. Yet, the Master Builder offered no help in renovating a single home in New Orleans, where Trump was angling to cash in on a skyscraper project.

Days before the hurricane hit, plans were announced for a Trump International Hotel & Tower to be built in downtown New Orleans. The $400 million project was to rise 70 stories, making it the tallest building in Louisiana. The development, to which Trump licensed his name, eventually became just another Katrina casualty, with its vacant real estate parcels being sold at a sheriff’s foreclosure auction in 2011.

The Trump foundation’s tax returns also show that the billionaire was not stirred to open his wallet following Hurricane Sandy’s devastation in 2012.

And while he has spoken at campaign appearances of his support for the armed forces and being the “most militaristic person there is,” Trump’s donations to veterans charities have been puny for a billionaire. The developer has donated a total of $125,000 to Fisher House, which provides lodging to the families of hospitalized vets. He has also given $5000 apiece to two other groups providing support services for veterans.

In April 2011, the last time TSG examined the Trump foundation’s finances, the developer’s web site referred to him as an “ardent philanthropist” whose charitable activities were an “integral part of his ethos.” Such an assertion about the billionaire’s “ethos” was mocked in these pages.

However, at some point in the intervening years, that reference to the billionaire’s purported philanthropic devotion was deleted from his web site, likely the only time the windy Trump biography--which now covers 4426 laudatory words--has been trimmed. By comparison, President Barack Obama’s bio on the White House web site is 331 words, while Pope Francis’s life and achievements are covered in 1218 words on In Trump’s defense, the 44th president has never cut a licensing deal for belts, nor has the Catholic pontiff had the “great honor” of being inducted into World Wrestling Entertainment’s Hall of Fame.

According to the Trump foundation’s most recent tax return, the group made contributions totaling $913,075 in 2013.

At the time Trump signed the foundation’s tax return last November, his net worth was at least $8.737 billion, according to a financial statement the developer released several months ago (Trump now claims he is worth more than $10 billion). So, the foundation’s giving amounted to a pitiful .000104 percent of Trump’s net worth.

According to a June 2014 Credit Suisse report, the median net worth of a U.S. adult is $44,900.  So, if the average American decided to donate at the net worth rate Trump does, they would only have to fork over $4.69 annually to charity.

Remarkably, however, Trump’s philanthropic efforts are actually worse than they appear.

Since 2001, his foundation has received $11.58 million in donations. Of that amount, Trump has only contributed $2.78 million, or 24 percent. IRS returns show that Trump has not donated a penny to his own foundation in the past five years. In fact, the developer has not written a check to the organization for more than $35,000 since 2006.

Trump’s failure to donate money to his own foundation raises the prospect that the billionaire’s recent personal tax returns would reflect no charitable giving whatsoever. While some presidential candidates have released years worth of their 1040 forms, Trump is not among that group. And it seems unlikely that the GOP candidate would surrender IRS documents that could not only disprove his net worth claims, but show him to be a Scrooge.

As seen in IRS filings by other billionaires like Carl Icahn and Michael Bloomberg, the operation of a private foundation is a rather straight-forward proposition: Rich person donates cash or securities to their foundation, which then uses the funds to make grants and donations.

But unlike his wealthy peers, Trump has settled on a system whereby he principally uses the contributions of others to fund his comparatively paltry philanthropy.

In fact, it seems that Trump is willing to do just about anything to avoid actually donating to his own foundation. He has participated in a series of wrestling storylines that resulted in $5 million in donations from World Wrestling Entertainment. Trump sold photos of his newborn son to People magazine for a $150,000 donation. After Trump promoted a new passenger ship on “The Apprentice,” his foundation received a $100,000 check from Norwegian Cruise Line. NBC Universal gave the Trump foundation $500,000 in 2012, while a New Zealand couple paid $10,000 for a brief meeting with the tycoon.

In the past three years, Trump’s foundation has reported receiving a total of $1.4 million from Richard Ebers, a New York City ticket broker. Asked about the donations, Ebers declined comment. It is unclear whether the money was given by Ebers himself or his employer, Inside Sports & Entertainment Group, a corporate hospitality, event management, and marketing firm owned by Creative Artists Agency.

It is hard to imagine another billionaire subjecting himself to a Comedy Central roast in return for a $400,000 donation to their charitable foundation (as Trump did in 2011). During the basic cable pummeling, comedian Gilbert Gottfried said that the developer had done so much damage to the New York skyline that, instead of “The Donald,” he should be called “the 20th hijacker.” When Trump later arose to address his less-liquid tormentors, he made sure to bray that he had “seven billion fucking dollars in the bank.”

* * *

While Trump’s foundation has given money to scores of groups since 2001, the aggregate amount he has contributed is miniscule compared to his moneyed circle.

Icahn, who has endorsed Trump, has donated more than $200 million to the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Icahn, who Trump has promoted as a prospective Treasury secretary, has also donated in excess of $200 million for the development of charter schools, the support of low-income families needing educational assistance, and the worldwide eradication of polio.

More importantly, Icahn--who is worth in excess of $20 billion--has signed the “Giving Pledge,” an initiative organized by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Signers of the pledge--all billionaires--commit to giving away a “majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes or charitable organizations either during their lifetime or in their will.”

Trump, of course, is not among the group of 138 individuals and families who have signed the pledge. Those magnates include Bloomberg, Richard Branson, Paul Allen, Elon Musk, Michael Milken, Ronald Perelman, David Rockefeller, Paul Singer, Mark Zuckerberg, Ted Turner, Eli Broad, Barry Diller, and Larry Ellison.

According to its most recent IRS return, the Bloomberg Family Foundation has $5.4 billion in assets, and donated more than $204 million in 2013. The foundation is funded solely by Bloomberg, who gave the group $345 million in 2013.

By comparison, Trump’s foundation has $1.3 million in assets.

Real estate and hotel tycoon Leona Helmsley, who traded tabloid barbs with Trump for years, died in 2007, three years before Gates and Buffett began promoting the “Giving Pledge.” But there is little doubt that the “Queen of Mean”--one of the many women Trump has enjoyed publicly denigrating--would have embraced the philanthropic initiative.

The abrasive Helmsley, who Trump once called a “piece of shit,” donated $5 million to the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund in the weeks after the 9/11 attack. She also gave $5 million to the American Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina left a wide swath of New Orleans submerged.

Since Helmsley’s death, the Leona M. and Harry Helmsley Charitable Trust has seen its assets grow to $5.4 billion, largely due to bequests from Helmsley’s estate. The foundation’s most recent IRS return, covering the fiscal year ending March 2014, reported contributions totaling $227 million.

While there is not much overlap when it comes to recent recipients of donations from Trump and Helmsley, the two foundations did both give money to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, according to their most recent tax returns. Trump’s check was for $5000, while the Helmsley foundation made contributions totaling $13.4 million. The latter figure--given in one year to a single charity--was $2 million more than the entirety of the Trump foundation’s charitable giving over the past 13 years.

A review of other Trump foundation donations since 2001 shows the billionaire to be something of a philanthropic starfucker.

The list of celebrities and athletes whose charitable outfits have received contributions from Trump includes Derek Jeter ($40,000); Chris Evert; Walt Frazier; Nat Moore, Jim Fassel; Joe Torre ($110,000); Magic Johnson, Peyton Manning; Marty Lyons; Lance Armstrong; Russell Simmons; Elton John; Larry King; Michael J. Fox; John Tesh and Connie Sellecca; and Gary Busey. Trump donated $20,000 to Busey’s foundation in April 2013, the day after the actor was “fired” on “All-Star Celebrity Apprentice.” Trump, the NBC show’s host, announced the donation via a tweet that noted Busey “worked hard and deserves it.”

Trump, a golf devotee who owns more than a dozen U.S. courses, has donated $525,000 to groups that promote the sport or are affiliated with golf greats like Tiger Woods ($130,000), Jack Nicklaus ($125,000), Arnold Palmer ($110,000), and Annika Sorenstam ($75,000). Nicklaus designed a Trump course in The Bronx that opened earlier this year, while Woods and Trump have teamed to develop a course in Dubai.

Fueled by other people’s money, the Trump foundation has donated $500,000 to the United Way, $250,000 to the Palm Beach Police Foundation, and $40,000 to the foundation that helps maintain the New Jersey governor’s mansion (which Governor Chris Christie uses for official functions). Trump has also contributed $150,000 to his 31-year-old son Eric’s foundation.

Other donations dovetail with Trump’s own personal, business, and political interests.

In 2008, Trump’s largest contribution was a $107,500 gift to the Gucci Foundation, a donation that came as the Italian luxury goods firm was opening its sprawling flagship store in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. The Gucci deal has been wildly lucrative for Trump, who referred to the lease’s value when recently belittling Mitt Romney’s net worth. “Gucci store is worth more money than Romney,” Trump told the Des Moines Register. Romney, who is reportedly worth in excess of $200 million, tithes 10 percent of his annual income to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and, compared to Trump, has personally donated far more money to his own charitable foundation.

Trump used his foundation to make a $50,000 donation in 2012 to the Manhattan prep school that admitted his son Barron, now 9. He also donated $36,000 to the Pennsylvania boarding school attended by his two older sons, and $7200 to the New York Military Academy, where Trump himself attended high school.

While the billionaire has donated $110,000 to President Bill Clinton’s foundation, he has also made contributions that would sit better with conservative and Christian voters. Trump has given $25,000 to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, $50,000 to the American Conservative Union, and, in 2012, he gave $100,000 to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

* * *

In June, when Trump announced his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, he handed out a one-page “Summary of Net Worth” document that included brief descriptions of his assets and liabilities. The document, which stated he was worth $8,737,540,000, also included a paragraph about the developer’s “Various Charitable Contributions.”

According to the summary, Trump “has been a major contributor to both charitable organizations and organizations dedicated to the preservation of open space, by donating valuable parcels of land throughout the country.” Over the last five years, the summary claimed, “in excess of $102,000,000 has been contributed for such purposes by Mr. Trump.”

The $102 million figure--which the campaign has never bothered to substantiate--appears to have been pulled out of the same orifice from which most Trump numbers emerge.

Though the summary portrays him as a champion of open space, Trump--who has made his fortune building garish gilded towers--is no one-man Nature Conservancy.

During a press conference he called earlier this year, Trump announced that he was dropping plans to build 16 luxury homes on an 11.5-acre parcel that is part of his seaside golf course in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. Instead of building homes, Trump granted an easement to a local land conservancy that protects the site from development.

Trump said that giving up the building rights was “not an easy thing to do” since the parcel was worth “much more than $25 million.”

The billionaire did not mention that public officials and residents in Rancho Palos Verdes, a city 30 miles south of Los Angeles, had urged him not to develop the property due to concerns about the land’s stability. In 1999, as the course--which is set on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean--was set to open, a “land failure” caused the 18th fairway to slide down into the ocean. Trump subsequently purchased the course in a 2002 bankruptcy sale.

While the easement prevents Trump from building McMansions on the site, he is continuing to use the 11.5 acres as the driving range for the Trump National Golf Course Los Angeles. In announcing his beneficent act, Trump did not mention whether he took a tax write-off for the easement.

Since Trump had fought, bullied, and litigated against Rancho Palos Verdes for years--he claimed city officials improperly hindered his development efforts--some locals were not buying the altruisitic spin on the granting of the easement. “Did a survey reveal that the land was about to fall off into the ocean?” one neighbor wondered.

The only other publicized land grant made by Trump came in 2006, when he donated a total of 436 acres of woods and wetlands to New York State. Spread over two parcels, the land is about 50 miles north of New York City and is adjacent to the Taconic State Parkway.

Trump, who purchased the properties for $2 million, sought to develop a golf course on some of the land, but those plans were scuttled due to state environmental restrictions and opposition from community residents and local politicians. After failing to sell the parcels--and concluding that a new course could hurt business at a nearby club he owned--Trump said he decided to “do something really spectacular” and donate the land for conservation by the state.

In announcing the donation, New York Governor George Pataki said that the state was naming the parcels the Donald J. Trump State Park. Pataki lauded Trump for his “vision and commitment to preserve the natural resource of this property for the benefit of future generations.” Trump said the donation was “my way of trying to give something back,” adding that, “I hope that these 436 acres of property will turn into one of the most beautiful parks anywhere in the world.”

When asked about the value of the acreage he was deeding over, Trump claimed that, “People have told me about $100 million.” He did not expound on what “people” concluded that the unimproved property’s value had increased by 50 times its purchase price. From press reports, it does not appear that anyone asked Trump about the size of the tax write-off his development company was taking.

While the donation was unveiled with much fanfare, the park turned out to be an epic bust. Trump provided no endowment to improve the property, and the state assigned no dedicated staff to the park (which had a budget in the low five figures).

In February 2010--less than four years after the land donation--the state shut the Trump park (and 57 other sites) due to budget cuts. The decision upset the billionaire, who considered suing to regain the property. “This was very valuable property,” he told The New York Times. “I gave it away at the height of the market.” Trump’s lawsuit, of course, never materialized, likely because he had already benefitted from the tax break.

While the Republican candidate’s eponymous park today remains moribund, the billionaire can still point to the huge signs on the Taconic directing motorists to the Donald J. Trump State Park. However, if drivers actually leave the parkway in search of the Trump park, they will quickly realize they have taken an exit to nowhere. There are no signs, picnic tables, hiking trails, athletic fields, or campsites to be found.

The state park is a phantom, a property now only used by intrepid dog owners who let their animals run around the desolate property and defecate on Donald Trump’s “spectacular” gift to New York. (7 pages)