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Is This What It’s Going to Be Like? - A porttrait of Donald Trump looking serious
Last updated November 2016

Is This What It’s Going to Be Like?

Dominic Fox discusses the fallout from controversies around the US presidential candidates’ charitable foundations.

Spare a thought for the cast of Celebrity Big Brother USA, who had been playing the game since September and didn't get the chance to vote: they had to wait six days to be told of Trump's win. One pleaded: “Can we just stay in here for the next four years?”

Both candidates suffered personal attacks during the campaign, and a great deal of this vitriol concerned their links to charity. The inhabitants of the Big Brother house were blissfully unaware of the negative coverage that no doubt will contribute to a decline of public trust in philanthropy.

The charitable foundation Bill Clinton set up in 2001 has raised over $2 billion for philanthropic causes. It employs a staff of 486 and thousands of programme workers. But it also cast a distinct shadow over Hillary Clinton’s campaign due to a potential conflict of interest with the state department.

The Donald J Trump Foundation is a private charitable organisation started by Donald Trump in 1987 with money he earned from his best-selling book, The Art of the Deal. It has been bankrolled almost exclusively by donations from Mr Trump's friends and associates. Bizarrely, in 2009 the foundation gave $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation.

More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money, either personally or through companies or groups, to the Clinton Foundation according to Associated Press. Combined, the donors contributed as much as $156 million. At least 40 donated more than $100,000 each, and 20 gave more than $1 million.

It gets weirder yet. Another of the email exchanges that dominated negative publicity for Clinton shows a foundation official requesting that Clinton help a member of Wolverhampton Wanderers, who was struggling to get a US visa to visit Las Vegas for a “celebration break” because of a “criminal charge”. This was at the behest of Hollywood and sports executive Casey Wasserman, who had donated between $5m and $10m to the Clinton Foundation.

Meanwhile it is alleged that in 2007, Donald Trump bought a six-foot-tall portrait of himself at a fundraiser auction, and paid with $20,000 from his charity. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat who spearheaded the investigation into Trump University announced on 3rd October that he has ordered the Trump Foundation to stop fundraising. The foundation had neglected to register under article 7A of New York’s Executive Law, which is required for any charity soliciting more than $25,000 (£19,440) a year.

The Washington Post reported that Trump’s charity had been soliciting donations from other people without being properly registered in New York State. According to tax records, Trump’s foundation has subsisted entirely on donations from others since 2008, when Trump gave his last personal donation.

According to the BBC, vice-president-elect Mike Pence said on 12th September that his running mate “has given away tens of millions of dollars to charitable causes throughout his business life”. The Trump campaign released a list of charitable donations it says the candidate has made totalling $102m over the past five years, but the items listed were either in-kind contributions such as free rounds of golf at Mr Trump's courses offered at charity auctions and land-conservation agreements, or money originating from the Trump Foundation.

“The Foundation's second-biggest donation described on the campaign's list went to the charity of a man who had settled a lawsuit with one of Trump's golf courses after being denied a hole-in-one prize”. Trump has refused to release his tax returns, which would show his charitable giving.

About 10 years ago, the Trump Foundation underwent a major change, transforming the foundation from the normal model of rich person’s philanthropy into a charity that allowed a rich man to be philanthropic for free. “Our common understanding of charity is you give something of yourself to help somebody else. It’s not something that you raise money from one side to spend it on the other,” said Leslie Lenkowsky, the former head of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and a professor studying philanthropy at Indiana University.

Back in May 2016, Donald Trump announced that he had given away all the money he had raised four months earlier for veterans and at the same time bitterly attacked the news media for pressing him to explain what he had done with the money. “Instead of being like, ‘thank you very much, Mr. Trump’ or ‘Trump did a good job,’ everyone’s saying, ‘who got it, who got it, who got it?’ ” Trump said in a news conference at Trump Tower. “And you make me look very bad. I have never received such bad publicity for doing such a good job”. Trump also labelled the news media “dishonest” and “unfair” and called ABC News reporter Tom Llamas “a sleaze.”

Washington Post again: “Trump was so bothered, in fact, that he stepped on his own good news, interrupting his recitation of $5.6 million in donations to veterans to complain again about the media. ‘I didn’t want to have credit,’ Trump said at one point. ‘What I got was worse than credit, because they were questioning me.’ The day was a strange, curdled end for an episode that had begun as a stunning success for Trump.”

If Trump becomes president, “is this what it’s going to be like?” a reporter asked toward the end of the unhappy news conference.

“Yes, it is,” Trump said.

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