THE TRUMP campaign believes this editorial is not journalism. It is “badgering.” That is how campaign manager Kellyanne Conway described on Tuesday some simple questions The Post and others have asked Mr. Trump and his circle over the past several months about his supposed philanthropic activities. If anyone has an authenticity problem, it is Mr. Trump. The facts on the table suggest he is not a great philanthropist — he is a scam artist.
Mr. Trump has cultivated the persona of a generous man, repeatedly claiming on television he would donate to charity “out of my wallet” and accepting honors from groups he appeared to support. In fact, an exhaustive investigation by Post reporter David A. Fahrenthold shows that Mr. Trump retooled his foundation about a decade ago to act as an intermediary for other people’s charitable giving, a racket from which Mr. Trump gained in reputation and from which he may even have occasionally profited.
Mr. Trump does not appear to have given his own money to the Trump Foundation since 2008, and by then Trump funds had become a tiny slice of the organization’s revenue. Since then, the available records suggest, a charitable group that bears the billionaire’s name has been funded by others. That has not stopped Mr. Trump from claiming credit for doling out other people’s cash. He happily accepted an award from the Palm Beach Police Foundation in 2010 — then he cut the group off once the real source of the money, a New Jersey charity, stopped contributing to the Trump Foundation. Donations he promised on “The Celebrity Apprentice” would come out of his “own wallet” instead came from his foundation or a television production company. The story is the same with a 2009 TV contest called “Trump pays your bills!”, in which the Trump Foundation, not Mr. Trump, paid the winner’s bills.
Perhaps Mr. Trump confused the Trump Foundation with his own bank account because he occasionally treated it like one. Melania Trump used $20,000 of foundation funds to buy a six-foot painting of Mr. Trump at a charity art auction. Mr. Trump bid $12,000 in foundation money to win a football helmet signed by quarterback Tim Tebow. These examples appear to violate IRS rules against charity officials engaging in “self-dealing.” Then there is the fishy donation sent from the Trump Foundation to a committee supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R). The donation was illegal — charities cannot give to political campaigns — and it came just as state attorneys general were subjecting Trump University to increasing scrutiny.
Trump staffers claim the Bondi donation was an honest administrative mistake. The campaign, meanwhile, has aggressively dismissed other questions about Mr. Trump’s giving by claiming that he has donated tens of millions to charity over his lifetime. Yet his surrogates offer no new evidence suggesting that he has given that much out of his own pocket. Mr. Trump might clear up some of the confusion if he released his tax returns. But he has so far refused to do so, defying decades of political precedent.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) announced Tuesday that he is investigating the Trump Foundation. There is a movement to persuade the Justice Department to do so as well. Yet the potential violations of the law seem to be less significant than what Mr. Trump appears to have done legally: duped people into believing in another one of his self-aggrandizing shams.