Trump for president? He won’t even get that far.

Michelle Singletary
Columnist April 30, 2011

I hope Donald Trump, the pompous host of “Celebrity Apprentice” runs for president because then we’ll get a certified look at his income, investments and debts.

But here’s a Trump-like prediction, which is like the various pronouncements made by the real estate developer that aren’t backed by any credible evidence: Trump will not run.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.” View Archive

He won’t officially declare his candidacy because the Ethics in Government Act requires those running for federal office to file disclosures of their personal finances.

The Office of Government Ethics recently released an advisory to potential presidential and vice presidential candidates clarifying the financial reporting requirements. Among other disclosures, candidates have to report income of $200 or more. They have to report assets — income-generating real property, stocks, bonds, mutual fund shares, commodity futures and other securities — that exceed $1,000. And they would have to disclose liabilities of more than $10,000 owed to any creditor during the reporting period. They do not have to list a mortgage secured by a personal residence.

Although the financial disclosure is used to identify potential conflicts of interest and is not a complete net worth statement, it still provides a good look at a candidate’s financial holdings. No embellishing allowed. Candidates have to certify that the financial statements and attached documents are true, complete and correct to the best of their knowledge.

The Huffington Post’s Marcus Baram has reported on Trump’s pattern of exaggerating his wealth. In a 2007 deposition, obtained by The Huffington Post and CNN, Trump was asked about his statements that his net worth was $8 billion. This is what Trump said: “I don’t know. I don’t think so. Well, maybe I’m adding $4 or $5 billion’s worth, $3 billion, for the value of a brand. But I don’t know.”

Forbes magazine puts Trump’s net worth at $2.7 billion.

In the big picture, Trump still lives lavishly, whether he’s a multimillionaire or multibillionaire. But his filings may reveal that he’s like many Americans who live large because of their access to debt.

So just how good a businessman is Trump?

Companies either run by Trump or affiliated with him have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection numerous times, with a casino-operating group of which Trump was the chairman filing as recently as 2009 — for the third time. This from a possible presidential candidate who says he can balance the federal budget?

I’ve met The Donald. Trying to sort through his business deals and bankruptcies was a surreal experience. Along with a fellow Washington Post reporter, I wrote about his casino bankruptcy filings in 1992. The fact that Trump can repeatedly use bankruptcy for his enterprises and claim he’s such a great businessman is astounding. Trump’s businesses survived because his bankers had more to lose.

Perhaps Trump has become a better businessman. Only his bankers really know for sure. As L. William Seidman, former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., said in an interview in 1992, “There’s a great many people who operate on the theory that, ‘If I borrow enough, the problem is the bank’s, not mine.’ ”

In a 1991 telephone conference call, Trump’s lenders, who could have seized Trump’s Castle Hotel Casino in Atlantic City, joked about his management skills. A tape recording of the discussion was made available to The Washington Post. The bondholders, who had helped finance the casino, opted to save Trump but still criticized his business acumen.

Warren Foss, an adviser to the casino bondholders, advocated allowing Trump to remain in charge of the project, paying him an annual $1.4 million management fee.

“What is he providing for the million and a half?” one bondholder asked, prompting laughter.

“We hope as little as possible,” Foss said, to even more laughter. “We hope it becomes characterized as a nonmanagement fee.”

Rather than focus on how specifically he would balance the federal budget or spur growth in the economy, Trump has made more news claiming that President Obama wasn’t born a U.S. citizen. After the president released his long-form birth certificate Wednesday — in hopes to turn the focus back on the serious financial crisis facing the nation — Obama said, “We do not have time for this kind of silliness.”

We certainly don’t.

Trump had told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that if Obama released his birth certificate he would release his tax returns. Maybe.

“That is certainly something I’d be thinking about doing anyway,” Trump said in another ABC interview. “But before I do anything, I have to make the decision [to run] in June, and the first thing I’m going to be releasing will be financials.”

Trump, I don’t believe the hype. You’re fired.

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Or e-mail: singletarym@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

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