The Numbers Behind the Tantrum

In this July 18, 2015 photo, Republican presidential candidate, real estate mogul Donald Trump, speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Saturday, July 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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With all the ranting and noise, I want to catch us up on what we actually learned yesterday with Trump’s big Vets’ charities show. Summary version: Trump didn’t hand out the money, lied about handing out the money, got caught not handing out the money, coughed up the money. Four-plus months after holding his debate-skedaddle fundraiser and announcing $6 million raised, Trump was caught in a series of lies about the money, most notably that he’d apparently tried to get away without contributing any of the $1 million he pledged after repeatedly saying he already had. (Here’s a helpful timeline through May 24th, the date Trump was finally shamed into coughing up the money.)

This is particularly notable since Trump claims to be worth $10 billion, which of course means 10,000 million dollars. Why he would try to skip out on a comparatively small amount of money (for him) raises its own questions.

Furthermore, none of the new contributions announced yesterday were Trump’s own money.

Let’s look at the details.

Back on January 28th, at his impromptu fundraiser, Trump rattled off the names of various rich friends who contributed money for veterans’ causes. This money was entrusted to him to contribute to worthy organizations. The total was $6 million including $1 million from him personally. By May, after repeated refusals to say where the money went, and repeated claims that Trump had already contributed his $1 million, reporters began to get suspicious. Eventually David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post was able to prove by process of elimination that Trump had in fact not contributed any of the promised $1 million to any veterans’ group. At that point, Trump coughed up the money.

On May 24th, Trump cut a $1 million check to The Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, which Trump’s family foundation had contributed to before and which had given him an award a year earlier. When confronted on why he’d waited so long (i.e. until he was caught), Trump told Fahrenthold: “You know, you’re a nasty guy. You’re really a nasty guy. I gave out millions of dollars that I had no obligation to do.”

The reference to ‘millions of dollars’ appears to be to the $4.6 million from other benefactors which had been entrusted to him to give to vets’ groups. In other words, the ‘millions of dollars’ were actually other people’s money he’d promised to contribute, which is to say Trump definitely had an obligation.

Okay, fast forward to the big show yesterday. With the exception of the $1 million contribution noted above, none of the 41 grants Trump announced yesterday were his money. All other people’s money. The AP called those 41 groups. About half of those who returned the calls said they’d gotten their checks in the last week, in most cases with checks dated May 24th. That’s the same day Trump finally made his personal contribution.

In other words, a substantial amount of the rest of the money didn’t get paid out until last week either. Until yesterday it had been assumed that Trump had paid out the contributions from other people but held on to his own money. Does this mean he wasn’t trying to stiff vets of his own contribution but was just slow disbursing the money generally? Note to Trump supporters: this is the best possible angle to pursue. Heck it may even be true. Indeed, this is the Trump campaign’s explanation.

Trump’s campaign says the delay was caused by needing to scrutinize the organizations to make sure they were legit. “I had people, teams of people reviewing statistics, reviewing numbers and also talking to people in the military to find out whether or not the group was deserving of the money.” Alas, groups contacted by the Post say the campaign made no requests for any financial documents and at least one of the 41 recipients appears to be a notorious donation mill. So the bulk of evidence suggests that neither Trump, his campaign or his charity did any vetting at all.

We should not lose sight of the fact that at the end of the day, almost $6 million went to apparently worthy organizations helping veterans. We should also not lose sight of the fact that Trump repeatedly lied about the money and seemed to be hoping to get away without contributing any of his own money at all, despite repeatedly taking credit for doing so.

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