The real star of the day [that is, for the Eric Trump Foundation golf invitational] is Eric Trump, the president’s second son and now the co-head of the Trump Organization, who has hosted this event for ten years on behalf of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. He’s done a ton of good: To date, he’s directed more than $11 million there, the vast majority of it via this annual golf event. He has also helped raise another $5 million through events with other organizations.
The best part about all this, according to Eric Trump, is the charity’s efficiency: Because he can get his family’s golf course for free and have most of the other costs donated, virtually all the money contributed will go toward helping kids with cancer. “We get to use our assets 100% free of charge,” Trump tells Forbes.
As with most anything else involving the Trump family, it is difficult to be sure what is real and what is not real:
That’s not the case. In reviewing filings from the Eric Trump Foundation and other charities, it’s clear that the course wasn’t free–that the Trump Organization received payments for its use, part of more than $1.2 million that has no documented recipients past the Trump Organization. Golf charity experts say the listed expenses defy any reasonable cost justification for a one-day golf tournament.
Additionally, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which has come under previous scrutiny for self-dealing and advancing the interests of its namesake rather than those of charity, apparently used the Eric Trump Foundation to funnel $100,000 in donations into revenue for the Trump Organization.
And while donors to the Eric Trump Foundation were told their money was going to help sick kids, more than $500,000 was re-donated to other charities, many of which were connected to Trump family members or interests, including at least four groups that subsequently paid to hold golf tournaments at Trump courses.
All of this seems to defy federal tax rules and state laws that ban self-dealing and misleading donors. It also raises larger questions about the Trump family dynamics and whether Eric and his brother, Don Jr., can be truly independent of their father.
Apparently, it did start as Eric Trump promised. In the early years, 2007-2010, expenses were about $50K. In 2011, expenses jumped to $142K. Why? Allegedly, Trump found out that his son was using the golf club for free and demanded that he pay market rate.
After returning, in 2012, to a more modest $59,000–while the event brought in a record $2 million–the listed costs exploded to $230,000 in 2013, $242,000 in 2014 and finally $322,000 in 2015 (the most recent on record, held just as Trump was ratcheting up his presidential campaign), according to IRS filings. This even though the amount raised at these events, in fact, never reached that 2012 high.
It’s hard to find an explanation for this cost spike. Remember, all those base costs were supposedly free, according to Eric Trump. The golf course? “Always comped,” he says. The merchandise for golfers: “The vast majority of it we got comped.” Drinks: “Things like wine we were normally able to get donated.” And the evening performances from musicians like Dee Snider of Twisted Sister and comedians like Gilbert Gottfried: “They did it for free.” So many sponsors donated, in fact, that the event invitation has carried enough logos to make a Nascar team proud.
Eric Trump, in speaking with Forbes, maintains that “our expenses on a tournament that made us somewhere in the $2 million range every year was somewhere around 100 grand,” even though his foundation’s tax records show costs soaring to $322,000. When asked for an itemized list of expenses, the Eric Trump Foundation declined to respond.
Or rather we should call this “market rate plus” because no one can price out the 2015 golf outing and find $322K in direct costs.
Donald Trump has long been a believer in “charity begins at home.” During the campaign RedState hit Trump’s abuse of the Trump Foundation and his use of it as a piggy bank very hard (at least 6 of these are by me) and you will recall that Trump finally had to be shamed into parting with the money he’d raised on behalf of veterans groups during the campaign.
In Catholic theology there are four sins against the Holy Spirit that are said to cry to Heaven for vengeance: murder, sodomy, oppressing the poor, and depriving a workman of his wages. Surely using a fundraiser ostensibly for the benefit of pediatric cancer research and bleeding part of the proceeds off, deceiving donors in the process, fits in this rubric somewhere.