I had hoped that my second post on the Donald J. Trump Foundation had exhausted this particular subject. After all, the Trump Foundation is small, and really doesn’t do that much.
Well, the 2015 Trump Foundation returns were posted on Guidestar, and thanks to Washington Post reporter David A. Fahrenthold, the Trump Foundation made the front page of the Washington Post — yet again. While Fahrenthold has made some points, his reporting shows the limits of his knowledge of foundations. In particular, he has failed to discover one glaring conflict of interest in the Trump Foundation’s giving.
The major news in Fahrenthold’s piece is that the Trump Foundation admitted in its latest filings that it admits that it has violated the IRS regulations on self-dealing. You will recall that the Trump Foundation has been accused of getting stuff that Donald J. Trump owns. Among them are a football helmet bought for $12,000 in 2012 and signed by Tim Tebow, then a quarterback for the Denver Broncos, and two portraits of Trump, for which the Trump Foundation paid $20,000 at one charity auction and $10,000 at another one. It’s not clear where the $20,000 portrait is, but the $10,000 one was found ”hanging on the wall of the sports bar at Trump’s Doral golf resort, outside Miami.”
In its 2015 filing, the Trump Foundation says it owns these items, but that the helmet is only worth $475, while the expensive portrait was worth $700 and the less expensive one $500. It’s not clear why they did this, but one reason could be that the penalty for self-dealing is a tax of 10 percent. Self-dealing isn’t even a misdemeanor, unless the IRS decides that a charity has done it too many times. So unless the New York Attorney General’s office cracks down, it’s unlikely there will be a trial. What the Trump Foundation did was wrong, and they should be fined for it, but this silly bauble-collecting saga is relatively minor.
However, this didn’t stop the “rapid-response fact checkers” at Media Matters for America from demanding that Fox spend more time discussing this scandal. Their analyst, Pam Vogel, the proud possessor of a master’s degree in education from Columbia’s Teachers College, reproduced an analysis Media Matters did in September that said that MSNBC spent nearly an hour discussing the self-dealing affair, while Fox spent less than three minutes.
I hate to disappoint Ms. Vogel, but the real story here is how MSNBC gasbags managed to fill an hour discussing the Trump Foundation’s self-dealing.
David Fahrenthold has two other bits of news in his piece. The first is that in 2015 the British family foundation of Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk donated $150,000 to the Trump Foundation, apparently as a payment for a speech Trump gave at a conference Pinchuk held in September 2015. (Trump didn’t go to Ukraine, but gave the speech via a video link.)
Fahrenthold, to his credit, notes that Pinchuk was a major donor to the Clinton Foundation, but doesn’t explain how much Pinchuk gave. Let me fill in the gaps Fahrenthold should have provided. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2015 that Pinchuk had given $8.6 million to the Clinton Foundation between 2009-2013, the years that Hillary Clinton had served as Secretary of State. In addition, Pinchuk announced in 2008 that he was giving a five-year, $29 million grant to the Clinton Global Initiative. But by 2015 Pinchuk had only given $1.8 million, claiming that recessionary pressures wouldn’t allow him to fulfill his pledge.
In August 2016 the Journal, in a follow-up story noted that while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, she hosted at least one dinner for Pinchuk.
Fahrenthold helpfully reveals who tipped him off to the Trump Foundation return. “The Post was first alerted to the 2015 tax filing by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal watchdog group.” He quotes CREW spokesman Jordan Libowitz, who ranted, “Why were the Trumps unable to provide locations of the Foundation’s assets like paintings and football helmets....when they clearly remain in possession of the Foundation?”
If you look at CREW’s website, you will find that in the past four months they have been doing nothing but bashing Republicans for various misdeeds. (They did find one Democrat in July to bash.) They are obsessed with a $25,000 donation the Trump Foundation made to a nonprofit controlled by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was investigating Trump University at the time. Trump reimbursed the Trump Foundation and paid an excise tax penalty. Trump Organization spokesmen, giving an explanation that is both ludicrous and plausible, said that the gift was a screw-up made by an underling.
CREW devoted so much time bashing Trump for the Bondi business that it’s possible they have spent more bashing the Trump Foundation over the gift than the foundation spent on it.
Jordan Libowitz gets many, many vindictiveness points for stating that the Tebow helmet could not possibly be worth $12,000 because at the time Trump bought the gift in 2012, the quarterback had a very productive year with the Denver Broncos. But after Trump’s purchase, the following season Tebow’s career tanked, as he had six completions with the New York Jets before dropping out of football. Apparently Libowitz believes that Trump should have psychics with him when he goes to celebrity auctions.
Finally, let me do some of Fahrenthold’s work for him. The press is obsessed with the Trump Foundation giving money that might have benefited Trump personally. At one point, Fahrenthold worried that a $7 donation to the Boy Scouts might be an example of self-dealing.
Well, in 2015 the Trump Foundation gave $50,000 to the Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, whose students currently include Trump’s son Barron. In fact, Melania Trump says that she won’t be moving to Washington because of her son’s attendance at Columbia Prep.
Buzzfeed reporter Alex Campbell notes in this 2015 story that the Trump Foundation donated $150,000 to Columbia Prep between 2012-2014, so the $50,000 in 2015 means that the foundation’s gifts to the prep school are at least $200,000. Campbell notes that at the time of the earlier gifts Caryn Zucker, wife of CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker, was on the Columbia Prep board. Jeff Zucker, when he worked at NBC, helped Donald Trump develop “The Apprentice.”
I’ll let David Fahrenthold explain why he thinks the Trump Foundation grants to Columbia Prep aren’t worth writing about. But I think I know why I’ll never see this story reported on CNN.