The Donald J. Trump Foundation received $150,000 from a Ukrainian oligarch in exchange for a video-speech Trump gave at a conference while he was a presidential candidate in 2015. The Washington Post and BuzzFeed reported the contribution Tuesday based on foundation tax forms that were made public this week.
The transaction appears to be similar to earlier donations the foundation received that had raised concerns among charity law experts, who say the payments should be taxed like personal income for Trump rather than treated as tax-exempt contributions to a nonprofit.
“I think we’re in the same world,” Philip Hackney, an associate professor of law at Louisiana State University’s Paul M. Hebert Law Center and a former employee in the IRS’s Exempt Organizations unit, told the Daily Beast of the Ukrainian payment.
“Assuming Trump was giving the speech in his capacity as an individual, the payment would be income to Trump,” Hackney told the publication. “Then Trump should have made the contribution to the foundation. The Clintons had problems with this as well. They reported money from speeches as contributions rather than income.”
The donation came from the London office of the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, which confirmed the contribution to BuzzFeed and said it was made in exchange for Trump’s video appearance at a conference the foundation organized. Steel magnate Victor Pincuck is one of the richest men in in Ukraine, and the donation was the single largest contribution the Trump Foundation received in 2015, according to the Daily Beast.
The conference, the annual Yalta European Strategy meeting, was held in Kiev in September 2015 and Trump’s video appearance included a question-and-answer session with Doug Schoen, a former Bill Clinton pollster who was hired by Pinchuk in 2011, according to the same report.
In his 21-minute appearance, Trump appeared to suggest that Ukraine was a victim of Russian aggression because of President Obama’s weak leadership and said Ukrainians weren’t “getting the support they need.” As the Daily Beast noted, that rhetoric was more sympathetic to Ukraine than the pro-Russia line he took on later in the campaign.
Pinchuk also donated to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, according to the Washington Post, adding to the controversy surrounding that nonprofit.
In addition to the tax law implications of the Trump Foundation transaction, charity law experts pointed out that the donation also is a template for how foreign interests could seek to build a relationship with Trump when he is president.
“The contribution points out a potential way for foreign donors to align themselves with [Trump],” Marc S. Owens, the former head of the IRS nonprofit division, told the Washington Post.