At a glittering 2008 gala hosted by Gucci to benefit Madonna’s charity, Donald Trump bid more than $100,000 for a trip to Paris, earning him press from New York to London. But most of the money he used wasn’t his. It came from his foundation, to which he had donated just $30,000 that year.
The bid fits a pattern: Trump takes credit for splashy charitable acts to which he in fact gives relatively small sums. Over the years, Trump has made grandiose claims of giving millions in charitable donations while giving little to his own foundation. For example, in 2001, he claimed his Comedy Central roast raised $1 million for charity. But Trump’s foundation records show just one donation from Comedy Central for $400,000.
With Trump’s winning bid on the vacation, most of the money almost certainly did not come from Trump himself. Tax records from his foundation show that in the preceding years, the foundation had spent virtually all of its money each year. Then, in 2008 — the year Trump won the vacation — he donated $30,000 to his foundation. (The year before, Trump also donated just $30,000.) The largest donor in 2008 was the Willard T.C. Johnson Foundation, which gave $250,000 to the Trump Foundation.
Trump’s winning auction bid raises another question: What became of the vacation? The trip reportedly included a tour of the famed Chataeu Latour vineyard and a meal with actor Salma Hayek and her husband, the French billionaire François-Henri Pinault, whose family owns the vineyard.
Trump himself didn't go on the trip, an aide told BuzzFeed News, but said that she did not know what became of the auction prize. Asked if it had been given to someone else, she reiterated that she didn't know.
Tax experts contacted by BuzzFeed News said that even if Trump gave the trip to a family member or friend, Trump would have had to report the trip on his foundation’s IRS tax forms. Those forms, however do not report any such transactions. IRS rules require nonprofits to report any “self-dealing” — using their money to furnish their executives with money or other benefits. The Trump Foundation tax forms, called 990s, do not report any such transactions for that year.
Reports of Trump winning the trip at the charity auction — which was hosted on the north lawn of the United Nations and benefited UNICEF as well as Madonna’s Raising Malawi charity — were featured in the New York Daily News, The Guardian, and French newspaper Le Figaro Economy, among others.
The star-studded event, hosted by Gucci, was attended various celebrities and held the same day that Gucci opened its flagship store in Trump Tower.
Reports indicate the funds raised at the charity gala would be donated to the Gucci Foundation and then distributed to the various charities the event was benefiting. Comedian Chris Rock was the auctioneer, according a Gucci press release. Other items won at the auction include a $600,000 package purchased by Japanese lingerie mogul Mika Noguchi. Video of Trump bidding can be seen in a video summary of the event on Vimeo and in one on YouTube.
Copies of IRS tax disclosure forms from the Gucci Foundation and the Trump Foundation show Trump’s auction purchase in 2008. A $107,000 donation to the Gucci Foundation is listed on the “charitable contributions” page of the Trump Foundation’s form. The donation is the largest by far of any donation Trump made that year. The next closest is a $60,000 donation to the Everglades Foundation. Trump’s Foundation also did several disbursements that year for $50,000.
The 990 for the Gucci Foundation that year shows a $145,000 donation from the Trump Foundation. No personal money from Donald Trump is listed on the Gucci Foundation’s 990.
A Trump aide said the difference between the two amounts on two foundations' 990s was because the Trump Foundation deducted the value of the trip and the price of the table at the event.
The Washington Post reported last week that Trump used money from his foundation to purchase a Tim Tebow football helmet at an auction in 2012. How often Trump spent his foundation’s money in auctions at charity galas is hard to prove. Trump has attended dozens and dozens of charity events over the years — many of which were held at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida. A Washington Post report last week was able to find only $10,000 worth of charitable giving with Trump’s own money over the last seven years.
Andrew Kaczynski is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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