During his first year in office, President Donald Trump was listed as president of the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which was entirely funded by a half-million dollar donation from Trump’s business along with a six-figure “reimbursement” from one of his golf clubs, according to a new tax return obtained by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Trump remained president of his namesake foundation through 2017 despite daughter Ivanka Trump officially resigning from her director position in January 2017, according to the tax return, which was filed under the penalty of perjury.
The Trump Foundation did not make any grants in 2017 after contributing $3.1 million in 2016 and reported no spending whatsoever during Trump’s first year in office, according to the tax return.
This follows an October 2016 notice from the New York attorney general’s office claiming that the Trump Foundation was in violation of state law for soliciting donations without proper authorization and ordering it to cease fundraising immediately.
After an investigation concluded that the Trump Foundation was “little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr. Trump or his businesses to nonprofits,” the New York attorney general filed a civil lawsuit against the Trump Foundation in June 2018.
The foundation’s sole 2017 contributor was the Trump Corporation with $502,400. 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 Trump Foundation’s biggest donors through 2016 were Vince and Linda McMahon, founders of the WWE. Shortly after his election and before he even took office, Trump selected Linda McMahon as head of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
A “reimbursement” from the Trump National Golf Club accounted for one-third of the foundation’s income.
The tax return notes that $271,365 from the Trump National Golf Club is a reimbursement for a payment from the foundation to a charitable organization on Feb. 14, 2012, related to an auction of membership to the golf club on a charity auction website.
That same year, the Trump National Golf Club and its partners settled a lawsuit with golfer Martin B. Greenberg. As part of a fundraising golf tournament in 2010, the golf club had promised golfers who shoot a hole-in-one the chance to win $1 million but did not pay Greenberg after he pulled off a hole-in-one. Trump’s club claimed Greenberg was not the minimum distance away but ultimately settled for $775,000 on February 13, 2012. As part of the settlement, the Trump Foundation paid $158,000 to the Greenberg Foundation on Feb. 14, which it raised through an online auction offering a lifetime membership to Trump’s golf clubs on a charity auction website.
“It is possible that the membership should have been auctioned, and the payment should have been made, by TNGC directly rather than through the Foundation,” a note in the foundation’s tax return reads.
The New York attorney general’s 2016 investigation into the foundation leading up to its lawsuit “concluded that the Foundation improperly used the funds it received from the auction” in a way that “constituted improper self-dealing.”
Although the foundation’s 2015 tax filings made the highly unusual admission that it engaged in “self-dealing” — violating a law prohibiting the use of a nonprofit for the benefit of those running it — the foundation did not report self-dealing the following year or in its most recent tax return.
Listed among the Trump Foundation’s assets are a “sports memorabilia” football helmet and two “fine art” portraits, both portraying the likeness of Trump himself.
A six-foot-tall oil portrait of Donald Trump by “speed painter” Michael Israel purchased by the foundation for $10,000 at a charity fundraiser auction held at Trump’s own Mar-a-Lago Club after Melania Trump won the auction was valued at $700 at the beginning of the year but dropped to zero by the end of 2017.
In 2017, the painter’s former manager said that Melania Trump had told him to ship the painting to Trump’s Westchester golf club in with the plan “to hang it in either the boardroom or the conference room of the club.”
The painting has become a sore point in the New York suit, alleging the foundation was misused as a “piggy bank” to help Trump’s presidential campaign and his business interests — potentially in violation of tax law, state law, and federal campaign finance law.
The suit cites coordination between Trump’s campaign and the foundation, alleging Trump campaign officials chose to give large donations to various groups right before the 2016 Iowa caucuses to help Trump’s political fortunes.
A federal judge in Manhattan on Friday denied a request from Trump’s defense to dismiss the case, saying the suit properly alleges that Trump used the foundation for political gain.
The office seeks to disband the foundation under court supervision and ban Trump from running charities for 10 years. Trump attempted to dissolve the foundation in 2016 to avoid conflicts of interest but was blocked by the attorney general’s office because the charity was already under investigation for allegedly using the charity to settle lawsuits and make personal purchases.
The New York State Dept of Taxation and Finance opened a probe into the Trump Foundation’s potential state tax law violations in July 2018 and the New York attorney general’s office is also investigating the Eric Trump Foundation amid allegations that the foundation told donors the money would help sick children but more than half-a-million of their donations went to benefit the Trump family and close friends, Trump golf clubs and the Trump Foundation.
Since Trump is the first U.S.President in nearly 40 years not to release his personal tax returns to the public, his foundation’s tax returns shine some light on his finances, but most of his financial entanglements remain a mystery.