James Werrell

How does Trump Foundation escape public outrage?

A great deal has been said and written about the Clinton Foundation. Why aren’t we hearing more about the Trump Foundation?

Depending on one’s point of view, the Clinton Foundation is either a uniquely successful force for good in the world or the private plaything of Bill and Hillary Clinton, who use it to extort money from wealthy donors. But most voters probably don’t know the well-documented facts about what the Clinton Foundation actually does.

The simple version is this: The foundation includes 11 major initiatives, focused on issues ranging from increasing crop yields in Africa, to providing earthquake relief in Haiti to reducing the cost of AIDS drugs around the globe. In all, this group of related charities has raised $2 billion, employs more than 2,000 people and has a combined annual budget of more than $223 million.

In 2013, according to FactCheck.org, 88.3 percent of the foundation’s $222.6 million in reported expenses was designated to program services. That’s a high ratio of charity to overhead for any such organization.

So, whether you want to admit it or not, the Clinton Foundation, by objective standards, helps a lot of people around the world.

So, how does the Trump Foundation compare? A revelatory investigation by David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post indicates that the foundation essentially serves as a piggy bank for Donald Trump and has little if anything to do with any known charitable enterprises.

Trump, according to the story, has used $258,000 from his foundation to settle lawsuits involving his for-profit businesses. One case involved a 2007 dispute over the height of a flagpole at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club.

The town of Palm Beach, Fla., had levied $120,000 in fines against the club but none had been paid. In a settlement, town officials agreed to waive the fines if Trump’s club donated $100,000 to a charity for veterans.

Instead, Trump sent a check from the Trump Foundation, which gets virtually all of its money from donors. In other words, Trump used other people’s money – charitable donations – to settle the dispute against his club.

In 2014, Trump used $10,000 from the foundation to buy a portrait of himself at a charity fundraiser. You say you’ve heard about that? You’re probably thinking of the $20,000 in foundation money he used at another charity fundraiser in 2007 to buy a different portrait of himself, this one six feet tall.

Perhaps most egregiously, Trump used $25,000 in foundation money to make a donation to a super-PAC supporting Republican Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who subsequently decided not to pursue an investigation of scandal-plagued Trump University. This is illegal, which Trump later acknowledged and paid a fine.

Still, talk about “pay to play”!

Many of the transactions of the Trump Foundation have yet to be revealed (along with Trump’s tax records). But it nonetheless is apparent that the Trump Foundation’s expenditures will amount to chump change compared to those of the Clinton Foundation.

But while the differences in scale are immense, it seems as if voters should be just as concerned about the dealings of one foundation as they are about the other. And what the evidence reveals about Trump is creepy.

This alleged billionaire, who supposedly self-financed his primary campaign, is a chiseler, a cheapskate, a fraud. He takes money that donors purportedly gave his foundation in good faith that it would be used for noble purposes and uses it to pay off fines and buy a six-foot portrait of himself – which, the Post reports, may be hanging in the clubhouse at the Trump National Golf Club in Westchester, N.Y.

With all the other outrageous things Trump has done, the shifty dealings with his foundation’s money may be small potatoes. But, come on, he’s bilking charities!

Seems like the level of outrage should be higher.

James Werrell is opinion page editor of The Herald.

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