Have you given more cash to charity than Donald Trump?

Posted at 10:46 AM, Jun 29, 2016

Donald Trump draws great attention to everything he does, and his charitable works are no different. Trump has claimed on the campaign trail that he has given over $102 million to charity in the last five years.

Normally, these statements might be given a cursory review, but when you run for president, such claims will be given even greater scrutiny. The Associated Press (AP) and the Washington Post have obliged with a look at Trump’s charitable foundation and his philanthropic claims. Both conclude that Trump has made plenty of charitable donations, but has done so using little, if any, of his own cash.

The AP found that tax filings of the Donald J. Trump Foundation showed no cash contributions from Trump since 2008. The Post shows Trump giving $2 million to his foundation from 2004 to 2014, with the vast majority of those funds coming from 2004 to 2006 and none from 2009 to 2014. Top donors from this time include the McMahon family of WWE wrestling fame at $5 million, NBC Universal Media (the conduit for Trump’s “The Apprentice” show) with $500,000, and Comedy Central at $400,000.

As for the $102 million in donations, Trump’s campaign supplied the AP with a 93-page list of more than 4,800 donations over the last five years to support his claim. This kitchen sink of contributions contains many items that were donated by the Trump Foundation (not Trump himself), such as donations of land easements, and gifts from Trump’s golf and lodging properties, including 2,900 free rounds of golf (according to the Post’s estimates).

Of the $102 million claimed, just under $90 million was based on land donations: $63.8 million went to conservation easements on various Trump properties, and another $26.1 million was land donated to the state of New York.

Trump can potentially benefit through some of these donations via tax breaks, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that — we receive tax breaks on our individual charitable donations as well. However, the Post and AP both cite an example of an easement donation on his golf course in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. His donation precluded building homes on that land — but the land already includes a driving range that Trump still owns and profits from.

In essence, building homes on the land would run counter to the golf course interests, and by donating the easement to forgo building, Trump can receive tax benefits. Technically, it is still a charitable donation and perfectly legal — but it is not what most Americans think of as charity. Such donations certainly do not match the broader scope and larger charitable donations of fellow billionaires, such as Michael Bloomberg and Mark Zuckerberg.

The Post concludes that while the Donald is certainly contributing to charities, he is using assets to do so instead of cash — and that “his giving appears narrowly tied to his business and, now, his political interests.” This is not to say that some money and assets do not reach worthy organizations, but in the end, for Trump it’s still all about Trump.

If you go with the Washington Post’s analysis, you probably have given more cash to charity than Donald Trump has. If you go with the AP analysis, you have probably given more cash to charity as a percentage of your income. Of course, Trump has given more in assets — assuming you don’t have a golf course or multiple land easements that you can use for charitable purposes, not to mention a charitable foundation funded mostly by others.

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