Trump Foundation tax return shows activities grinding to a halt before shutdown

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While on the campaign trail in 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump gave a $100,000 donation to an organization that assists wounded veterans through his foundation. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

New tax returns for the Donald J. Trump Foundation reveal the charitable organization raised no money and gave none away in the year leading up to President Donald Trump’s agreement to shut down the controversial charitable vehicle.

In November, a New York State Supreme Court judge ordered the foundation to pay a $2 million penalty after Trump personally admitted to misusing the Trump Foundation to boost his 2016 presidential bid, according to the settlement.

The 2018 tax return required to be filed in November and obtained by OpenSecrets on Dec. 1 spotlights Trump’s continued ties to the foundation. Trump was listed as president of the Trump Foundation for the entirety of his first two years in the White House, the newly released tax document shows. 

Trump’s daughter and White House advisor, Ivanka Trump, officially resigned from her director position in January 2017. But the Trump Foundation continued to list Trump’s adult sons, Eric and Donald Trump Jr., on its board of directors through the end of 2018 along with Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg. Weisselberg is reportedly being scrutinized in a federal criminal investigation of the Trump Organization, which he now runs with Trump’s two adult sons, due to his involvement in arranging a “hush money” payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

The Trump Foundation’s finances were largely stagnant in 2018 as it faced raging legal battles, disclosing no income beyond interest on its assets and reporting effectively no other activity whatsoever.

During Trump’s first year in the White House, the Trump Foundation was entirely funded by a half-million dollar donation from Trump’s business along with a controversial six-figure “reimbursement” from one of his golf clubs, according to the 2017 tax return obtained by OpenSecrets. The Trump golf club reimbursement stemmed from funds received after a 2012 auction that the New York attorney general’s 2016 investigation concluded were “improperly used” in a way that “constituted improper self-dealing.”

In addition to the fine and dissolution, Trump agreed to give away the foundation’s remaining money amid allegations that he used the foundation for his personal and political benefit. 

The Trump Foundation’s roughly $1.7 million in remaining assets stem from years of contributions from donors with personal and business ties to Trump. Trump himself has not made any personal donations to his namesake foundation since 2008, accounting for only $2.8 million of the foundation’s funding since 2001.

The new tax returns show the Trump Foundation continued to cling to its assets as of the end of 2018, retaining a football helmet signed by former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow and a portrait of Donald Trump. 

The value of the sports memorabilia and painting dropped significantly since they were procured by the Trump Foundation. The painting of Trump was purchased with foundation money for $10,000 in 2014 but the new tax return lists its worth now as just $500 while the helmet, which the foundation bought for $12,000 at an auction, is listed at $475.

Notably absent from the Trump Foundation’s latest tax return is another 6-foot-tall painting of Trump the foundation paid $10,000 for after Melania Trump won it at an auction in 2012. Valued at $700 at the start of 2017, the painting’s value mysteriously dropped to zero by the end of that year without explanation and is not mentioned in the 2018 tax return at all.
The top donor to the Trump Foundation this century is World Wrestling Entertainment. WWE gave a total of $5 million, with the dates of those donations to the foundation matching the years of Trump’s two appearances at WrestleMania events in 2007 and 2009. 

The WWE later told HuffPost that “WWE paid Donald Trump appearance fees separately.” Without Trump’s personal tax returns, however, it is nearly impossible to confirm that claim.

WWE’s millions of dollars in donations made up roughly half of the Trump Foundations revenue in the past decade, topping the amount given by Trump and his businesses. WWE is owned by Vince McMahon and his wife Linda McMahon, Trump’s first appointee to run the Small Business Administration and a big Trump super PAC donor who now chairs the President’s official super PAC, America First Action.

Other donations to the Trump Foundation also coincide with paid appearances by the Trumps and other business dealings The Trump Foundation raked in $500,000 from NBC Universal in 2012 while the network aired his reality TV show, The Apprentice. 

A Celebrity Fight Night Foundation spokesperson claims Trump made a deal that the Trump Foundation get a portion of proceeds from a 2007 auction intended to benefit the Mohammed Ali Parkinson’s Disease research center in exchange for Trump’s appearance and willingness to auction off “New York-based dinner with himself” for charity. Celebrity Fight Night shelled out $150,000 as a charitable donation to the Trump Foundation that year.

A spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Lines told HuffPost that a $100,000 donation to the Trump Foundation in 2005 was “in lieu of an appearance fee” for now-First Lady Melania Trump.

A New Zealand couple who own a “get-rich-quick” seminar business gave the Trump Foundation $10,000 in 2006 for a 30-minute meeting with Trump.

People Magazine gave $150,000 around when it received rights to publish photos of Trump’s son, Barron. 

Trump’s campaign told the Washington Post he paid income tax on a $400,000 payment from Comedy Central made shortly after Trump’s appearance on the channel for a celebrity roast in 2011. 

Under IRS rules, an individual paid for services generally cannot avoid paying income taxes by diverting payment through a charitable vehicle such as Trump’s foundation. Instead, that individual would likely need to report the payments for services as income even if the payment is charity.

But because Trump hasn’t released his income tax returns, whether he reported the income remains a mystery.

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Anna first joined the Center for Responsive Politics in September 2015. She works with CRP’s foreign influence and FARA data as part of the Foreign Lobby Watch Project, tracks FCC and digital political ad data, and is responsible for CRP’s politically active nonprofit and nondisclosing “dark money” group data. She holds degrees in political science and psychology from North Carolina State University and a J.D. from the University of the District of Columbia School of Law.

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