Eric Trump is suspending the operations of his charitable foundation — ceasing all fundraising — after facing questions about whether the foundation donors might get special access to members of the first family.
“No new money will come into the ETF bank account,” Trump wrote in an email message on Thursday.
That decision appeared to go beyond a pledge Trump had made a day earlier to the New York Times: In that interview, Trump said he would cease personally raising money for the foundation but left the broader fate of the foundation uncertain.
The Eric Trump Foundation, founded in 2007, raises more than $1.5 million a year through a golf tournament, online auctions and other events. One recent auction, for instance, offered a 10-week paid internship at the Trump Organization, which came with the chance to sit down for 15 minutes each with Eric Trump and his siblings Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump. In another auction, the foundation offered a chance to pitch a business idea to Eric Trump over lunch.
The Eric Trump Foundation has one paid employee: Eric Trump did not respond to a question about her job status while the foundation is suspended. The foundation does no direct charitable work but rather passes on the bulk of the money it raises to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, a pediatric-cancer center in Memphis. St. Jude named a surgery and intensive-care unit after the Eric Trump Foundation in 2015, after the foundation made a pledge to donate $20 million over 10 years.
Eric Trump says he has raised about $15 million for St. Jude. That figure includes $7.9 million in donations from the Eric Trump Foundation, and $7 million more from other fundraisers he has organized, often held at Trump organization properties. At Trump hotels, for instance, guests can make small donations through their room bills.
Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that the foundation was auctioning off a coffee with Ivanka Trump — the president-elect's daughter, and an influential adviser to Donald Trump. The Times reported that bids had risen to more than $72,000, and that the top bidders were people seeking to influence Trump's policymaking. That auction was canceled after the Times story ran.
That controversy was followed by another one, involving another charity — and another apparent offer to sell access to Trump family members. In that case, first reported by TMZ.com, Eric Trump and his brother Donald Trump Jr. were listed as “honorary co-chairmen” of a post-Inauguration fundraiser. According to a draft invitation, donors could pay $500,000 to go on a multiday hunting trip with one or both of the Trump sons, or pay $1,000,000 for a private reception with the president.
The host of that “Camouflage & Cufflinks” gala was listed as the Opening Day Foundation, a charity registered just days earlier in Texas. As first reported by the Center for Public Integrity, that Texas charity listed both Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. as directors. The Trump transition team later said none of the Trumps had been involved in the planning of the event. Later, the two Trump sons' names were removed from the charity's registration.
Both those episodes seemed to show that the Trump family — whose members have spent years monetizing personal appearances, both for profit and for charity — have not prepared themselves for a new world in which their father is president, and such cash-for-access arrangements look like influence-peddling.
So far, Donald Trump has not set any explicit limits on his involvement with his global business empire. His two eldest sons — who are supposed to run the business empire while Trump is president — have also been deeply involved in the presidential transition process, even helping to select some Cabinet secretaries.
In interview over email on Thursday, Eric Trump still seemed to be searching for the right way to wall off his personal life — including his charitable work — from his new, informal role as presidential adviser.
After Eric Trump told The Post that he was suspending the entire foundation, The Post asked: Why? Couldn't Eric Trump simply step away from the foundation but leave it functioning in his absence?
“Maybe that's an option, but not one I have thought much about,” Eric Trump replied. “I will however think about your suggestion.”
Eric Trump said that the remaining money owed to St. Jude under the $20 million pledge could be covered by Trump Organization properties. “The small dollar donations direct to St Jude from the hotels raise millions of dollars a year and would more than fulfill the obligations (we are years and years ahead of the pledge)," Eric Trump wrote.
One of the longtime members of the Eric Trump Foundation's board, Andrew Joblon, said Thursday that he was saddened to learn that the foundation would be suspended.
“When I spoke to Eric last night he reassured us that when his father was out of office we could resume our efforts for supporting the cause we have become so passionate about,” Joblon wrote in an email, noting that he and Eric Trump had met with the families of children treated at St. Jude.
“It is with great sadness that I type this because we have poured our heart and soul into this cause to help children with severe illness at one of the world's best institutions,” Joblon wrote in another email. “The only ones losing here are the kids and that to me doesn't sit very well. Eric, or any of the board members have never leveraged business relationships for donations.”
President-elect Donald Trump, by contrast, has said nothing about the fate of his own charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, as he prepares to take office.
The Donald J. Trump Foundation was prohibited from fundraising by the New York attorney general, who acted after The Washington Post reported that it had been soliciting funds without obtaining the proper state registration. But recent tax filings made clear that, if the charity begins fundraising again, it could be a conduit for outsiders seeking to influence Trump. In 2015, for instance, a politically active Ukrainian steel magnate used his own foundation to give $150,000 to Trump's foundation. The gift came in connection with a brief speech that Trump gave by video to a conference in Kiev.
Donald Trump's charity is also under investigation by New York attorney general, which began after The Post revealed that Trump had used the charity's funds to buy large portraits of himself, and to pay off legal settlements involving his own for-profit businesses. Tax law prohibits acts of “self-dealing,” in which nonprofit leaders use money meant for charity to buy items for themselves or their businesses.
“The Trump Foundation's fundraising activities remain suspended following the Attorney General's Notice of Violation. Our investigation is ongoing,” Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D), said in a statement.
In a recent tax filing, the Donald J. Trump Foundation admitted to the IRS that it had violated the “self-dealing” ban in at least two years, but the charity has provided no more details about when, or how, it violated that law.
Hope Hicks, a Trump transition spokeswoman, did not respond to a question about the fate of the Donald J. Trump Foundation sent Thursday morning.