Donald Trump’s charge that Hillary Clinton used her office as Secretary of State to service donors of the Clinton Foundation exemplifies a regular Trump tactic: Preemptively charge your opponent with what you know you’ve done.
So, fully aware that his own family foundation is a shoe-string operation that breached IRS regulations, or worse; Trump and his surrogates charged for months that the Clinton Foundation’s funding and works are proof of corruption. No disinterested party found any such proof.
Instead, a review of the dimensions and operations of the two foundations suggest that the Clintons built a serious and effective philanthropic enterprise while Trump’s foundation is a sham.
To start, the creation and funding of a private foundation can provide a measure of its founder’s generosity, because virtually all family foundations involve substantial gifts from their founders. Public records do show that the Clintons have contributed $5 million to $10 million, or roughly five to ten percent of their personal assets, since establishing their foundation 15 years ago.
According to a far-reaching new investigation by David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post, Trump also contributed some $5.5 million to his foundation from 1987 to 2008. What does this say about their relative generosity? Trump says he’s worth $10 billion, so he has contributed .00055 percent of his personal assets — that’s 55 one-thousandths of one percent — to the Trump Foundation.
By contrast, the Clintons have contributed roughly five to ten percent of their personal assets to the Clinton Foundation. So, the Clintons have been 90 times more generous than Trump in funding their respective family foundations.
The Clintons’ charitable ambitions also are orders of magnitude greater than Trump’s. In 2013, the Trump Foundation provided grants totaling $913,000 for good works, while the Clinton Foundation spent $196 million on its good works. Do the math: The Clinton Foundation spent 215 times as much as the Trump Foundation on charitable works. This huge difference has import beyond their respective founders’ benevolent aspirations, because private foundations are major sources of public goods and welfare.
In 2008, a colleague and I published the first broad analysis of the benefits generated by private foundations, and found that each dollar in grants and support by those foundations produced welfare benefits valued at $8.58. On this basis, the Clinton Foundation grants and operations in 2013 helped generate benefits totaling nearly $1.7 billion, compared to $7.8 million in benefits generated by the Trump Foundation.
Another meaningful measure of a foundation’s value is the nature of its activities. The Clinton Foundation is known best for its Health Access initiative, which, according to the World Health Organization and others, has dramatically cut the cost of HIV and anti-malarial treatments for tens of millions of sufferers in low- and middle-income countries.
The Clinton Foundation also sponsors programs to reduce the risks of climate change, including partnerships with businesses to retrofit their building for green energy; a joint initiative with the Scottish Hunter Foundation to target the roots of poverty in Africa; an alliance with the American Heart Association and the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation to reduce childhood obesity; disaster relief efforts following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti; and a partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to collect and compile information from around the world on the status of women. The head of the independent watchdog group Charity Watch, Daniel Borochoff, recently called the Clinton Foundation “one of America’s great humanitarian charities.”
The Trump Foundation reports no joint initiatives with other charitable organizations and few good works of any kind. Instead, Trump’s foundation appears to be mainly a personal platform for its founder.
Fahrenthold’s investigation found repeated instances of Trump soliciting funds from other foundations, a common charitable fundraising tactic. But Trump then used the funds donated to the Trump Foundation to make a donation in the name of the Trump Foundation, without adding any funds or operations of its own. In fact, all Trump Foundation grants since 2008 have been funded by others, because Trump himself has contributed nothing to his own foundation for the plast eight years.
Trump also appears to use his novel approach to philanthropy for his own personal profit: He solicited a $150,000 donation from the Charles Evans Foundation to benefit the Palm Beach Police Foundation, packaged it as a $150,000 grant from the Trump Foundation, arranged for the police foundation to receive the grant at a gala held at his Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, and then charged the police foundation $276,463 to rent Mar-A-Lago for the event.
Similarly, after Trump offered to personally donate $500,000 to charities highlighted on his “Celebrity Apprentice” television show, NBC/Universal which airs the program, donated $500,000 to the Trump Foundation to cover Trump’s “personal” pledges. Trump also appears to violate federal regulation of foundation by using foundation funds for personal benefit: The Trump Foundation paid $20,000 for a six-foot portrait of Trump that now hangs at one of his gold resorts; after Melania Trump bid on and won the painting at a charity auction held, of course, at Mar-A-Lago.
There is also the much-reported case of Trump’s foundation contributing $25,000 to the campaign of Florida Attorney General Pamela Bondi while Bondi’s office was investigating consumer complaints about Trump University. Shortly there]after, A.G. Bondi declined to join other state attorneys general in a suit against the now-defunct Trump University. Beyond the Trump Foundation’s direct breach of IRS regulations, for which it paid a nominal fine, the conduct fairly smacks of the pay-for-play corruption that Trump charges his opponent has committed.
Finally, Fahrenthold found five cases where the Trump Foundation claims it made donations, totaling $51,000, which the purported beneficiaries say they never received. The subjects of this trick included a veterans’ charity in Vermont, a pro-life nonprofit in Kansas, a Latino AIDs charity in New York, a children’s medical center in Omaha, and an umbrella organization for small charities in Los Angeles.
In the end, the questions raised about the Trump and Clinton foundations go to the character of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Hillary and Bill Clinton have built an esteemed charitable foundation that has improved and saved the lives of millions of people around the world. Donald Trump has created a con, inveigling others to finance him play-acting as a philanthropist, and turning a profit for himself in the bargain.