Donald Trump strategically donated money from his foundation to conservative influencers ahead of his presidential bid, effectively using funds intended for charity to support his own political ambitions, a report shows.
Real Clear Politics tracked a series of donations Trump made through his foundation between 2011 and 2014 totaling at least $286,000 to right-leaning policy groups. The analysis found that timing of the donations lined up with endorsements from such groups or speaking invitations at conferences and events. These engagements gave him a stage and access to the voters he would later hope to court during his unconventional presidential campaign.
Using Trump Foundation dollars to bolster his own political career would violate self-dealing rules, which prevents use of charitable dollars for personal use or benefit. The candidate himself has not given to his own foundation since 2008, reports show, meaning those funds given to the conservative groups were donated by others who thought their money would be used for charity.
The Washington Post revealed Trump used foundation money to buy items at charity auctions he personally kept, including a football helmet signed by Tim Tebow and two portraits of Trump.
Trump officially announced he was running for the White House in June 2015, but appears to have had his eye on the presidency years before.
Real Clear Politics discovered that in 2013 the Trump Foundation, which is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, donated $10,000 to The Family Leader, which is a 501(c)(4) non-profit that can politically organize and lobby for policy. Political activity is not allowed by 501(c)(3) organizations. The donation was not appropriately recorded on the organization’s tax filings, which is a violation of tax law even if it was a mistake.
Trump was invited to speak the same year he made that donation to The Family Leader at the organization’s leadership summit in Iowa, a key state in presidential primary races. Also in 2013, Trump spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a large political event outside Washington, D.C. He donated $50,000 from the foundation to the nonprofit which organizes the conference.
Other donations to the Citizens United Foundation and the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. lined up with prime speaking slots for Trump at events put on by the groups.
Trump’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment from Real Clear Politics.