DOCUMENT: Celebrity, Investigation

Trump: The Least Charitable Billionaire

The Donald is a miser, not an “ardent philanthropist.”


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Trump Tax Returns

APRIL 12--During the recent Comedy Central roast of Donald Trump, the presidential aspirant used his rebuttal time to remind the audience--and a dais of tormentors--that he had “seven billion fucking dollars in the bank.” He delivered this rebuke with the kind of pure joy seen when a boy discovers Santa has brought him a puppy for Christmas.

More than his towering ego, vituperative tongue, or peculiar hairstyle, money has defined Trump during the 30-plus years he has spent in the public eye. He frequently brags of his billions, and even sued a journalist who had the nerve to question whether those 10-figure pronouncements were severely inflated.

Now that Trump is again threatening to run for president--and has, for the first time, gained some political traction thanks to his embrace of the “birther” movement--The Smoking Gun has examined how the 64-year-old developer has spent some of that massive fortune. Specifically, Trump’s philanthropy over the past 20 years, which has been channeled through the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

A TSG review of the group’s Internal Revenue Service returns dating back to 1990 reveals that Trump, the foundation’s president, may be the least charitable billionaire in the United States.

How miserly is The Donald?

From 1990 through 2009, Trump has personally donated a total of just $3.7 million to his foundation, which was incorporated in 1987. In fact, the billionaire is not even the largest contributor to his own charitable organization.

Tax returns show that World Wrestling Entertainment has given Trump’s foundation a total of $5 million in return for the developer’s assistance in working a couple of televised angles along with WWE boss Vince McMahon. The WWE gave Trump’s foundation $4 million in 2007 for his help in promoting that year’s WrestleMania festivities, and another $1 million in 2009, when Trump (pictured below with McMahon) pretended to purchase part of the WWE empire. 

The real estate titan’s foundation has also banked $205,000 from media outlets and supermarket tabloids in return for exclusive photos (People magazine, for example, paid the foundation $150,000 in 2006 for the first shots of Trump’s newborn son Barron).

During the past two decades, the Trump foundation has made charitable contributions totaling a paltry $6.7 million.

Both the amount of money Trump has donated to his own foundation as well as the aggregate contributions made by the not-for-profit group are pitiful when compared to the philanthropy of other high-profile tycoons like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Larry Ellison, Ted Turner, Michael Bloomberg, David Geffen, or S.I. Newhouse.

For example, in 2008 alone, Bloomberg’s charitable contributions totaled $235 million. In 2009, Ellison gave his medical foundation stock worth $73.2 million, according to IRS records. Newhouse’s foundation reported making donations totaling $11.8 million on its 2009 IRS return. And a tax return filed last year revealed that the late entertainer Johnny Carson even left his charitable foundation $156 million.  

Trump’s miniscule donations have also been dwarfed by the charitable contributions of Leona Helmsley, whom Trump took great pleasure in mercilessly skewering. Helmsley, who died in 2007, left billions to her charitable trust, which last month alone made donations totaling $12.93 million (or nearly twice what Trump’s foundation has donated in the past 20 years).

In the aftermath of national tragedies like September 11 and Hurricane Katrina--when public figures worth a fraction of Trump were donating seven figures to relief organizations--the billionaire apparently misplaced his checkbook somewhere in his triplex atop Trump Tower.

Helmsley, by comparison, gave $5 million to the American Red Cross when New Orleans was submerged, and, post-9/11, she gave $5 million to the New York Police and Fire Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund.

In 2006, Trump’s foundation did give $1000 to the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Fund, a controversial Scientology program (co-founded by Tom Cruise) that promoted a “purification rundown” for firemen and others who inhaled toxins while working near the smoldering remains of the World Trade Center.

While the Trump foundation’s 2010 tax return won’t become public until later this year, it seems unlikely--if history is any indication--that any groups providing aid in the wake of last January’s Haiti earthquake received money from the billionaire.

Philanthropy, of course, is not the sole province of a particular political party. Both George Soros and the Koch brothers--boogeymen from the left and right, respectively--are remarkable philanthropists. Nor is Trump, or anyone else for that matter, required to donate a penny to charity.

But for whatever reasons--gratitude, empathy, naming rights, religious beliefs, guilt, good publicity, take your pick--the country’s wealthiest families have historically helped fund hospitals, libraries, research facilities, museums, schools, and cultural institutions via significant contributions and/or recurring pledges.

But for Trump, the only buildings bearing his name have tacky gold gilding and are stuffed with overpriced condominiums.

Donations from the billionaire’s foundation appear to be mere crumbs falling from his overflowing plate. In 2009, the group--flush with WWE cash--gave $26,000 to the American Cancer Society, $5000 to the Alzheimer’s Association, $6000 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and $250 to the Special Olympics. Trump, an avid golfer, also donated $100,000 apiece to the Tiger Woods Foundation, the William J. Clinton Foundation, and a hospital foundation connected to Arnold Palmer. Trump also donated $75,000 to the foundation of golfer Annika Sorenstam, $5000 to Golf Pros Beating Cancer, and $1000 to the Metropolitan Golf Association Foundation.

Trump has also been a regular contributor to the foundations of New York Yankee Derek Jeter and ex-Bronx Bombers manager Joe Torre, as well as the New York Jets Foundation. And while he has donated $25,000 to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, Trump also wrote a $5000 check to the Edward M. Kennedy Center for Study of the United States.

The recipient of the largest single Trump donations has been the United Way of New York City, which received $250,000 in 2004 and 2006. The Police Athletic League has also received large donations from Trump, who sits on the group’s board of directors.

On his web site, Trump describes himself as an “ardent philanthropist” whose charitable activities are “an integral part of his ethos. He is the archetypal businessman, and an icon of New York.” Oh, he is also “the most recognized businessman in the world,” a trailblazer whose “acumen is unrivaled, and the diversity of his interests has set a new paradigm in the world of business.”

Strangely, though the billionaire’s web site chronicles every aspect of his life in great detail--children, books, golf courses, Trump chocolate, Trump bedding, beauty pageants, Trump spring water, Trump bath rugs--his purported “ardent” philanthropy is not further described. Which is odd, considering Trump--whose superlatives have their own superlatives--has never been shy about gassily trumpeting every last one of his world-beating achievements.

Such modesty would be refreshing were it valid. (5 pages)

Comments (51)

well, that's a good thing, obviously shows the conservatives are for themselves then.....