Still no charity money from leftover Trump inaugural funds
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee raised an unprecedented $107 million for a ceremony that officials promised would be “workmanlike,” and the committee pledged to give leftover funds to charity. Nearly eight months later, the group has helped pay for redecorating at the White House and the vice president’s residence in Washington.
But nothing has yet gone to charity.
What is left from the fundraising haul remains a mystery, clouded by messy and, at times, budget-busting management of a private fund that requires little public disclosure. The Associated Press spoke with eight people — vendors, donors and Trump associates — involved in the planning and political fundraising for the celebration, an event that provides an early look at the new president’s management style and priorities. The people described a chaotic process marked by last-minute decisions, staffing turnover and little financial oversight.
Among the head-scratching line items was the pre-inaugural Lincoln Memorial concert, which came with a $25 million price tag, according to four of the people. The price dwarfs a similar event staged eight years earlier for Barack Obama’s first inauguration. One person familiar with the committee’s thinking said the $25 million included broadcasting costs and other events, complicating any comparison with past inaugural concert expenses.
Tom Barrack, chairman of the private Presidential Inaugural Committee, and other former committee officials said the inauguration was a great success but declined to answer detailed questions from AP about how money was spent. Barrack said that keeping the books closed was no different from any past inauguration.
In a recent statement, he said that the committee’s donations to charity “surely will exceed any previous inauguration,” but will have to wait until the end of November, when he said the committee will publicly disclose details about its finances.
Three people familiar with efforts to sort out the inaugural committee’s financing said there is ongoing confusion about how much is left after the Jan. 20 celebration.
The people spoke on condition of anonymity in order to reveal details about private conversations.
Because inauguration funds are private money, there are few limits on how leftover money can be used. Previous administrations have used it to supplement budgets for work on the White House residence or events like the annual Easter Egg Roll.
Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for first lady Melania Trump, confirmed Trump has continued the practice of using some leftover funds for renovations to the White House and Naval Observatory, home of the vice president. She declined to disclose the amounts spent on those projects.
Trump has a history of making bold charitable promises — with slow follow through.
In January 2016, he held a high-profile fundraiser for veterans’ causes, but it took him four months — and pressure from the media — to follow through on his pledge to donate $1 million of his own money. During the campaign, Trump’s longtime personal foundation came under fire for its use of other people’s money to fund Trump’s charitable pledge.
His inaugural committee was aggressive in its fundraising.
While both Obama and George W. Bush both limited the size of individual and corporate donations. Trump’s inauguration allowed unlimited individual donations, and corporate donations of up to $1 million. The group took $5 million from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, and millions more from business giants including Boeing, AT&T and Reynolds American.
The committee’s total haul of $107 million was nearly twice that of Obama’s inauguration in 2009.
“Our ability to raise more private funding than any inaugural committee before is a tribute to the generosity of the American people and their excitement to “make America great again,” Barrack told the AP in a statement this month.
Despite the committee’s record fundraising, its planning goals remained modest. On Dec. 29, spokesman Boris Epshteyn told Breitbart News the planners would avoid pomp and circumstance.
“This is not a coronation,” he said, noting Trump would have only three inaugural balls — unlike the eight to 14 at the inaugurations of Bill Clinton, Bush and Obama.
But the spending got out of hand, according to vendors and others involved with the inauguration planning. Perhaps nowhere did the spending mount as quickly as for Trump’s “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration.”
The opening concert, featuring Toby Keith and Three Doors Down, was broadly similar to concerts put on for Obama in 2009 and Bush in 2005 — except for the cost.
Bush’s inaugural committee spent $2.5 million on its concert on the National Mall. Obama’s 2009 concert had 10,000 ticketed seats — twice the size of Trump’s — and cost less than $5 million, said Steve Kerrigan, who worked on the 2009 event and was chief executive of Obama’s 2013 inauguration.