Nothing Has Yet Gone To Charity

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

President Trump’s inaugural committee raised an unprecedented $107 million and the committee pledged to give leftover funds to charity. That amount doubled President Barack Obama’s then-record inauguration donations in 2009, which totaled around $53 million. Nearly eight months later, the Trump inaugural committee has helped pay for redecorating the White House and the vice president’s DC residence.

But nothing has yet gone to charity.

An inaugural committee is appointed by the president-elect to take charge of the presidential inaugural ceremony and related activities. This committee is required to disclose to the Federal Election Committee (FEC) all donations received. This report is due to the FEC no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on the 90th day following the date of the presidential inaugural ceremony. That date came and went. We learned who the donors were. They included uber-wealthy givers like investment firm founder Charles Schwab, mining entrepreneur Christopher Cline, and the Bank of America. Investor and casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson spent $5 million, which, according to the New York Times, is the largest single contribution given to any president’s inaugural committee. Sadly, presidential inauguration committees do not have to disclose how the funds were spent.

But nothing has yet gone to charity.

We also learned that the campaign committee is now paying legal bills related to the investigation of Mr. Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia, which makes him the first US president to use such funds to cover the costs of responding to a criminal probe. Is this also true of the inauguration funds?

But nothing has yet gone to charity.

The recent AP news story about the funds being promised to charity did not quote one nonprofit leader on what we thought about this unfulfilled pledge. This is also true of ten other articles that I surveyed—an example of how we of the nonprofit sector are invisible to most of the mainstream media, and to this administration. Yet what are we doing to call-out this bad behavior?

Isn’t it interesting that “45” wants our blessing? He wants “virtue by association” with us, because “giving to charity” means you are a good person. If that’s true, what does it mean that he has not fulfilled his pledge? It means he basks in our light without the right to do so. Yet what are we doing to say that this is not okay?

According to author and fundraiser Frank A. Monte, from a legal standpoint, a charitable pledge is a contract between a donor and a charity in which the donor promises to make a contribution in the future. Such a pledge may be oral or in writing. Obviously, a written pledge is preferable, and charities as well as donors are well advised to reduce all oral pledges to writing as soon as possible. In a disagreement, nothing “trumps” the written word. However, our public servants are expected to keep their word or be discredited.

Back in April, Mr. Trump’s campaign committee said it was still identifying charities toward which it would direct leftover money. Why is it taking so long?

The Trump campaign committee is due for its next disclosure on October 15th.  Let’s see if anything has come our way by then. In the meantime, please join me in speaking out for transparency and accountability.

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.

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