In President Trump’s speech, he is a committed philanthropist with close ties to many charities. “If you don’t give back you will never be fulfilled in life,” he wrote in “Trump 101: The Way to Success”, published at the height of his fame “Apprentice.”
And according to his tax record, he’s made at least $ 130 million since 2005, his second year as a reality TV star.
But long-hidden tax records obtained by The New York Times show that Mr. Trump didn’t have to dig through his wallet for most of those donations. The vast majority of its charitable tax deductions, worth $ 119.3 million, came from simply agreeing not to develop land – in several cases, after setting aside development plans.
Three of the agreements involved what are known as conservation easements – a maneuver, popular among wealthy Americans, which generally allows a landowner to retain title to a property and receive a tax deduction equal to his estimated value. In the fourth land deal, Mr. Trump donated property for a state park.
The New York attorney general is investigating whether the valuations of two of Mr. Trump’s easement donations were not properly inflated for greater tax breaks, according to court documents.
Mr Trump’s statements about philanthropic largesse have been widely discredited by reports, including in the Washington Post, that he has exaggerated, or simply never made, a range of claimed contributions. His own charitable foundation closed in 2018 amid self-activism allegations benefiting Mr. Trump, his businesses and his campaign.
But tax data the Times examined lends new authority and much greater precision to these results. The records, encompassing his reported philanthropic activity up to 2017, not only reveal his exact dimensions; they show that much of his charity came when he was under duress – facing damage to his reputation or heavy tax burdens over years of high income.
Of the $ 7.5 million in business and personal cash contributions reported to the Internal Revenue Service since 2005, more than 40% – $ 3.2 million – came from 2015, when Mr. Trump has come under scrutiny after announcing his candidacy for the White House. In 2017, his first year in office, he declared $ 1.9 million in cash donations. In 2014, however, he contributed $ 81,499.
And his first two land easement donations were made during what tax records show as a period of significant taxable income – 2005 and 2006, prime time for his reality TV fame.
The biography of the President Trump Organization says he is “involved in many civic and charitable organizations.” When he announced his campaign in 2015, he said he had donated over $ 102 million to charity in the previous five years.
While it is possible that he chose not to report some of his donations, his tax records for 2010 to 2014 reflect much less than he claimed – $ 735,238 in cash and $ 26.8 million. in land easements and other non-monetary gifts. Six months after the start of the campaign, in December 2015, another easement, valued at $ 21.1 million, was completed.
Responding to questions from The Times, Amanda Miller, spokesperson for the Trump organization, said, “President Trump gives money privately. It is impossible to know how much he has given over the years.
The tax information analyzed by The Times includes annual totals for corporate and individual donations, but only lists some corporate donations.
The largest cash donation he made for his businesses, made to his own foundation, was the $ 400,000 he received in 2011 for being roasted on Comedy Central. In 2014, his Virginia vineyard donated a glass sculpture valued at $ 73,600 to a small historical society in Pennsylvania. And in 2016, another of his companies donated $ 30,000 to the American Hotel & Lodging Education Foundation.
Even without the details of Mr. Trump’s individual donations, The Times was able to identify public philanthropic promises that appear to have been exaggerated or never materialized. In each case, the size of his commitment exceeded what he had told the IRS he had given in a given year.
In 2009, for example, he agreed to lease his Seven Springs estate in Westchester County, New York, to Libyan dictator Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi, who hoped to stay in a tent on the ground during a meeting of Libya. the United Nations General Assembly. .
Although the plans fell apart when local residents objected, Col. Gaddafi made a payment of $ 150,000, which Mr. Trump told CNN in 2011 he donated to charity. However, his 2009 tax returns only reported $ 22,796 in business and personal cash gifts.
In 2015, Mr. Trump pledged to donate the profits from his book “Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again.”
“The profits of my book? I give them to a lot of different people, including vets, ”he told a press conference.
Tax records show that Waxman Leavell Literary Agency, which represented Mr. Trump’s book, made two payments to him in 2015 and 2016, totaling around $ 4.5 million. During those years, Mr. Trump said he gave a total of $ 1.3 million in cash to charity.
Many wealthy people create their own foundations, often to gain greater control over their philanthropy. While Mr. Trump’s foundation, established in 1988, donated millions to charity before closing in 2018, most of it was other people’s money. Mr. Trump himself donated $ 5.4 million to the foundation, the last contribution being in 2008, according to the organization’s tax returns.
The majority of the president’s philanthropy, however, has consisted of his four land deals with conservation groups or the government.
His first easement donation, which resulted in a tax deduction of $ 39.1 million in 2005, was for a piece of land at his golf club in Bedminster, NJ.
The following year, he donated 436 acres of land for a state park in New York City’s Westchester and Putnam counties after development plans met strict regulatory restrictions. While the precise value of the easement is unclear, he cited non-cash charitable contributions of $ 34 million that year.
Mr. Trump had bought the property in the 1990s for $ 2 million, according to numerous published reports. Today it is overgrown and has few facilities or visitors.
The two most recent easement deductions are being reviewed by New York Attorney General Letitia James – as part of a larger investigation to determine whether the Trump organization has inflated asset values to secure loans and debts. fiscal advantages.
In 2014, after scrapping plans to develop an 11.5-acre property used as a driving range at his Los Angeles golf club, Trump received a $ 25.1 million tax deduction for a easement with a land conservator. Few details of the deal’s investigation have emerged.
Court documents further shed light on the other easement under investigation.
In late 2015, Mr. Trump secured $ 21.1 million in tax relief for 158.6 acres of land in the Seven Springs area, after years of unsuccessful attempts to build a golf course there.
The attorney general’s file indicates that after Mr. Trump scrapped plans to develop Seven Springs, he asked Sheri Dillon, a tax lawyer at Morgan Lewis who had advised him in the past, to have the land assessed.
Ms Dillon told Cushman & Wakefield, the firm that did the appraisal, that “the client exploded against her” and she leaned on the appraisers to take action that would increase the value, the court record says .
Several weeks ago, after months of delays, Mr. Trump’s son Eric filed a statement in the case.
Mr. Trump has denied any wrongdoing. “President Trump was not involved in the mentioned valuations, which were carried out by the country’s most respected valuation and brokerage firm,” said Ms. Miller, the spokesperson for the Trump organization.