Representatives for President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee still won’t say what the committee did—or plans to do—with the tens of millions of dollars it pledged to charity last year. And it may be many more months until the public finally knows.
The committee smashed the record for inauguration fundraising, bringing in about $107 million, double the sum raised for Barack Obama’s first inauguration, which held the previous record. But Trump’s inaugural committee only spent about half of that money. The rest, it said, would go to philanthropic ends.
More than a year later, no one knows what those ends will be.
A spokesperson for Tom Barrack, Trump’s personal friend and the chairman of the committee, told The Daily Beast on Dec. 8 that it would be filing an annual report detailing its charitable giving with the Internal Revenue Service “in the next several weeks.” It is now Feb. 12, and it still hasn’t done so and there is no indication of when it will.
The committee doesn’t have to wait for a 990 filing to say where it directed leftover funds, noted Brendan Fischer, the director of federal and FEC reform programs at the Campaign Legal Center, an ethics group. “Even if the inaugural committee does need more time to file its 990, there is nothing stopping it from voluntarily disclosing how it spent the leftover funds, and whether any money went to charity,” he said in an email.
“Tom Barrack said the inaugural committee would disclose charitable contributions in Fall,” Fischer added, “then pushed the deadline back to November, and now here we are in February and the public still has no idea how the inaugural committee spent $107 million.”
The committee hasn’t operated entirely in the dark. In September, Barrack announced that the committee would donate $3 million to three charities involved in hurricane relief efforts. That pledge came after The Daily Beast inquired about the potential use of inaugural committee funds to support such efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
But those contributions amount to a small fraction of the cash left over from inauguration festivities, and the committee’s lawyers aren’t saying when the public might find out where the rest of the money went.
Contacted in December, Steve Roberts, an attorney with the firm Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky, which represents the committee, told The Daily Beast that the filing might not come in until as late as September 2018. The inaugural’s tax filing schedule would allow it to put off the filing until then if it asks the IRS for an extension.
But Tom Josefiak, a partner at the firm, told The Daily Beast in a subsequent conversation that the inaugural committee plans to file its annual report before it is legally required to do so. Josefiak would not say when that might be, and Roberts, contacted on Friday, once again declined to estimate when the information might become publicly available.
The inaugural committee’s record fundraising came in large measure from deep-pocketed Republican moneymen such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, private companies looking to win favor with the new president, and even some large Democratic donors adjusting to the new reality in Washington.
Barrack’s tremendous success in raising money for the occasion has kept him in the president’s good graces—so much so that Barrack was reportedly approached about replacing White House chief of staff John Kelly, who is under fire over allegations of domestic abuse by one of his former subordinates.
The sums raised by the inaugural committee dwarfed even what those running it expected to bring in. According to documents filed with state charity regulators in early January 2017, the committee projected it would raise $50 million from contributions and ticket sales.
The committee’s finances likely aren’t particularly complex, Fischer said. “Considering that the inaugural committee’s only job was to put on a few parties in January 2017, it is difficult to see why it should need any extensions” to its IRS filing deadline.
Its repeated disclosure delays, he said, “really make you wonder what it is they are trying to hide.”