Let me say at the outset, I am not an investigative journalist nor am I a tax attorney so many of the assumptions I make in this post are based on common sense and pure speculation. If there are any factual mistakes, please contact me and I will be happy to correct the record.
Famous and wealthy people have great advantages in this wonderful country of ours. One of the great advantages is the fact that famous people have the ability and the contacts to raise large amounts of money for charitable purposes. Ever since Andrew Carnegie decided to bequeath much of his wealth to his private foundation back in 1905, the wealthy, with conscience, have started charitable organizations to advance the public good. With the tax reform act of 1969, charitable foundations became a popular vehicle for wealthy individuals to get tax breaks and to help society as a whole. It also provides an important vessel for estate planning purposes.
In this day and age, the fact of the matter is former Presidents of the United States have become very recognizable and very famous. Most Presidents when they retire from office do start charitable foundations for several purposes. First and foremost, they use the foundations as a way to raise funds to build and support their Presidential libraries. In addition, they use the funds to further their policy goals and to support public organizations that do good works. Former Presidents Carter, and Reagan have such foundations and who can forget George HW Bush’s Thousand Points of Light Foundation. President Bill Clinton is no different than his predecessors. He started the Clinton Foundation in 2001 after leaving office. The problem with the Clinton Foundation is the fact that one of the Clinton’s was just beginning her career in public office. Should we deny a former President of the U.S. the ability to start a foundation to raise money for a Presidential library and carry on the works he feels passionately about just because his wife is still in public office? The situation is unprecedented I grant you and with the kind of money we are talking about the possibility of ethics violations is a real concern. There is no doubt that the works of the Foundation and Ms. Clinton’s work as the Secretary of State did overlap on occasion and the appearance of impropriety did exist, there has been no credible evidence to date suggesting there was any improper activities afoot. The Clinton Foundation has a robust presence on the internet and their site is packed with information about the good works they do and their total financial disclosures. Total transparency.
Donald Trump has recently been banging the drum about how corrupt the relationship between Ms. Clinton’s work at the state department and her role at the Foundation has been but has offered nothing in the way of proof that anything took place that wasn’t within the bounds of her involvement in either organization. Foreign donors? Yes, some foreign entities did give money to the Foundation and some of those donors possibly expected special treatment from the Secretary of State but no evidence has been offered that they were given any. After all, if you have a Foundation and are actively soliciting funds to promote the greater good, one shouldn’t be picky about who gives or question their motives for giving. The responsibility for moral action was on Hillary alone and it appears that she acted accordingly. Mr. Trump has gone so far as to call for the dissolution of the Foundation without any thought to the thousands and possibly hundreds of thousands or millions of people that might be adversely affected by such a move.
Then I got to thinking. Trump is awfully good at turning criticism of him around on his opponent and perhaps this attack was just a pre-emptive strike. I then wondered if Donald Trump even had a charitable foundation and what I discovered is in keeping with Trump and the Trump Organization.
The Donald J. Trump Foundation was established in 1988. It is currently being managed by the WeiserMazars accounting firm, the 24th largest firm in the US. Strangely enough, the man who heads the firm, a Victor Wahba, was sanctioned by the SEC in 2004 and only regained his ability to practice as a CPA in 2010. The Trump Foundation does not have any digital presence except for a landing page with no links claiming over $1.6 million was raised online for veterans.
That’s a fine claim but the Trump Foundation only reports $1.2 million in assets. A deeper investigation talks about a donation from the Trump Foundation to the Susan G. Komen charity for an celebrity auction in which Mr. Trump bought a Denver Broncos jersey and helmet autographed by Tim Tebow. Presumably he took a tax write off for a personal purchase that was made by his foundation. Seems awfully convoluted. Then another story talks about a campaign donation from the foundation to the attorney general of Florida who, at the time was considering charges against Trump University. Talk about trying to buy influence! That donation by the way which is expressly forbidden by IRS rules was explained away as a mistake, but we wonder.
Perhaps Mr. Trump wants the press to focus on the Clinton Foundation so they won’t look into his own foundation and reveal that once again Mr. Trump surrounds himself with questionable characters and plays fast and loose with the rules.
Finally I had the opportunity to look into some of the Foundations started by politicos and then looked into some of the foundations started by real estate and hotel moguls and the only conclusion I can draw is that either Donald Trump is not as famous and influential as he claims or he doesn’t really care about philanthropy. I suspect both are true.
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