Show Me the Money
Trump’s Inauguration Pledged Millions to Charity. To Date: Zero Given.
Donald Trump’s inaugural committee promised to give millions in unspent money to charity. It’s needed now more than ever. So where’s the money?
The White House announced the details of President Donald Trump’s $1 million gift to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts on Wednesday. But another group tied to the president has previously promised a far larger pot of charitable gifts, and its stewards aren’t in any rush to dole them out.
Trump’s inauguration committee has millions of dollars on hand that it did not spend on ceremonies in January, according to Tom Barrack, a friend of the president’s who leads the inaugural committee. The committee has said since January that that money will be given to charity, a pledge that Barrack reiterated to The Daily Beast. But even as some internally press for the unspent funds to go toward hurricane relief efforts, Barrack is signaling that donations may not be made for months.
“Ultimate closing filings later this fall will show that millions of dollars of reserve funds will be allocated to various charities, institutions, and foundations in an amount that will surely exceed any previous inauguration,” Barrack told The Daily Beast in a statement.
The inaugural committee won’t be closing its books until November, according to Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign hand who now works for Barrack. But that deadline is two months away, and Harvey has produced a dramatic need for charitable donations in the near term. Hurricane Irma’s steady approach toward the east coast could swell the demand for storm-related charitable funds even further.
The president seemed to acknowledge that need when he pledged to personally donate $1 million to the Harvey relief effort this week. The White House detailed that giving in a statement on Wednesday, which identified a dozen charities that would receive the money.
Those donations were made under relatively minor media pressure, which is rare for Trump, who either slow-walked or completely circumvented past charitable commitments.
The inaugural committee falls closer to that category. As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group, it is not required to disclose its expenditures, so it’s not clear exactly how much cash the committee has available for charitable giving. Gates said the total sum would not be known until the committee closes its books for the year. Trump’s inauguration shattered previous fundraising records, nearly doubling the total raised by former President Barack Obama for his first inauguration.
But even as it far out-raised Obama’s inaugural committee, Trump aimed for a more muted celebration and observers noted that it consisted of fewer, and less extravagant, events. That suggests that the committee ended the inauguration with tens of millions of dollars of cash on hand.
Internally, at least one major inauguration donor has been pushing for the committee to now use leftover funds to support Harvey relief.
“The wonderful victims of Hurricane Harvey in Houston would be a great start,” said Lloyd Claycomb, a $100,000 donor and a member of both the president’s inaugural and transition finance committees. Asked by The Daily Beast on Saturday if he had proposed that idea to Barrack, Gates, or other members of the committee’s leadership, Claycomb said in an email, “I will float the idea to the team today.”
Claycomb did not respond to further inquiries. But Gates himself called the possibility of funding Harvey relief efforts a “great idea” in a text message with The Daily Beast. “We will need to check the legalities but not sure why a C4 would not be able to contribute,” he said.
Inaugural committee spokesman Alex Stroman told The Washington Post in March that the committee would release details of its planned charitable giving the following month. It has not yet done so, and Stroman, who told The Daily Beast in emails as late as June that he did not have an update on that giving, did not respond to emails seeking information on the status of the charitable contributions.
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives approved an $8 billion Harvey aid package, but estimates of total recovery costs are far higher, with some pegging the price tag as high as $190 billion.
With Hurricane Irma threatening to make landfall in Florida this week, the costs of U.S. disaster recovery efforts could quickly swell dramatically.