Numbers Disagree With Trump Golf Course Claim Of 'Millions To Charity'

Oct 18, 2017
Originally published on October 18, 2017 1:45 pm
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump has made some bold claims about his charitable giving over the years, and those claims do not always match up with reality. At Donald Trump's California golf course, NPR has found that the golf club has exaggerated or misstated its philanthropic giving in several ways. And after we started asking questions, the golf club took down their claims of philanthropy from their website. Tom Dreisbach is a producer for the NPR podcast Embedded. He's been looking into this and joins me now. Hey there, Tom.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: I guess start by telling me about this golf course and what they were claiming.

DREISBACH: So this is Trump National Golf Club, Los Angeles. It's actually just outside the city of LA. It's an amazing property that Trump has owned since about 2002, and on their website, they claimed that they had given approximately $5 million to a variety of charitable causes, and they listed about 200 organizations that they said they had given money to.

GREENE: And what did you find was the truth?

DREISBACH: So we examined this list that was on the website. We cross-referenced that with a publicly available document that the Trump campaign had put out where they essentially just listed out all of their donations over the years, and that included some donations from the golf club. But when we looked at the golf club's website, they included some organizations that weren't on that document. So that got us to look a little bit closer.

We started contacting those organizations, emailing, making phone calls. And what we found very quickly is that a number of them - about 17 in total - said they had received no donations at all or at least had no record of such a donation. That included the California Department of Veterans Affairs. It included the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation, which supports children who have suffered severe burns. And then the donations we could verify were almost entirely in-kind donations for a round of golf or a gift certificate for a Sunday brunch for two.

GREENE: Well, what are these charities saying about this whole thing?

DREISBACH: Well, there were some charities that had actually received significant cash donations in the range of about $10,000 to $15,000. That includes the local land conservancy, the local chamber of commerce, local Kiwanis group that said they got some money for a local marathon. They also - they were very grateful. And then for the organizations that were included but had no record of donation, you know, it ranged from frustration that they would be included on this list without their knowledge to just confusion.

GREENE: Well, if the original number that was suggested was $5 million, is there any way to add up actually what was given by this golf club?

DREISBACH: What we were able to account for is about $800,000 in donations - far short of that $5 million number. Now, the Trump Organization did not make any contact with us. They refused to answer any phone calls, emails. And one possibility is that they are claiming a conservation easement, which is a sort of controversial tax break that you can take. Basically, The Trump Organization said that their driving range, they were going to preserve it as open space in perpetuity. It's sort of a way of preserving open space and habitat, but in fact, as one charity expert told me, the driving range is still a driving range, so it doesn't really pass the smell test in terms of a charitable gift.

GREENE: Doesn't pass the smell test, but, I mean, technically, they could in theory argue that holding that as an open space was an extraordinary gift to society, to the world.

DREISBACH: That would be the claim that they were making, yes. They simply haven't answered our questions, and so they could clarify all this, but we just haven't heard anything back from them.

GREENE: Tom Dreisbach is a producer for the NPR podcast Embedded. Tom, thanks.

DREISBACH: Thank you.

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