The initial invitation from Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump dangled a rare opportunity for donors willing to pony up $500,000 and more: a private reception with the new president the day after his inauguration and a hunting or fishing excursion with one of the brothers.
“Opening Day is your opportunity to play a significant role as our family commemorates the inauguration of our father, friend and President Donald J. Trump,” read the draft obtained by TMZ.
But days after the details about the high-dollar Jan. 21 “camouflage & cufflinks”-themed fundraiser first leaked, a spokeswoman for the president-elect said Tuesday that neither he nor his adult sons were involved in plans for the event. And the organizers of the function — who include close friends of the Trump brothers — dialed back offers of access to the new president and his sons.
The confusion over the family’s connection to the fundraiser showed the degree to which Trump has failed to set rules that would protect his family from allegations of influence-peddling or draw clear lines between himself and the interests of his children, who will take over management of his business empire, watchdog groups said.
“This is an obvious and ongoing problem that this president will face until he creates a true firewall,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch.
The initial outlines for the “Opening Day 45” event seemed to take advantage of the still-blurred lines by allowing donors to buy time with the new president while offering little information about what charity would reap the proceeds. The conservation foundation named Tuesday as the event’s beneficiary told The Washington Post that it is still considering whether to participate.
It is also unclear to what degree the details of the high-priced fundraiser — and its aggressive use of the Trump name — was a surprise to the Trump family. While Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said the Trump sons were not involved “in any capacity,” organizers of the event said the two brothers took part in discussions about the fundraiser, for which they are still honorary co-chairmen.
In fact, their names were prominently listed as the main hosts of the event on its official website, which was temporarily live Tuesday. And the Eventbrite page to purchase tickets for the event names the brothers as “organizer.”
The Jan. 21 function was the brainchild of two Dallas friends of the Trump sons, hedge-fund manager Gentry Beach and private-equity investor Tom Hicks Jr. All are avid hunters.
“One of the important things for Don Jr. and Eric is conservation, and we wanted to help them organize a party to celebrate conservation,” Hicks said in an interview. “After the president-elect won, we got focused on this. Don Jr. and Gentry have been spearheading it.”
Beach, who was a top fundraiser for Trump’s campaign and is serving as a finance vice chair of his presidential inaugural committee, did not respond to requests for comment. Trump Jr. also did not respond.
But spokeswoman Hicks said details of the event had not been approved by the Trump family.
“Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are avid outdoorsman and supporters of conservation efforts, which align with the goals of this event, however they are not involved in any capacity,” she said in a statement. “Additionally, the President-elect is not aware of the event or the details pertaining to.”
The event is set to be held at the end of Trump’s first full day as president at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the District and promises entertainment by artists such as Toby Keith and Alabama.
Elaine Schock, a publicist for Keith, confirmed that he has agreed to play at the event but said she did not know who is paying him.
An early version of the invitation promised donors who gave $500,000 or more a “private reception and photo opportunity” with “President Donald J. Trump” and a “multi-day hunting and/or fishing excursion” with Donald Trump Jr. or Eric Trump.
However, those perks were not included in a final version of the invitation released Tuesday and posted on the event website. Instead, top donors are offered a private reception with “VIPs and celebrities associated with the event” and “a multi-day outdoor excursion.”
Mark Brinkerhoff, a spokesman for the event, said he could not confirm whether the new president would attend but that Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump were expected to be there.
The fundraiser is being put on by the Opening Day Foundation, a new nonprofit entity that was incorporated in Texas on Dec. 14, as the Center for Public Integrity first reported.
State corporate filings list Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump as directors of the group, along with Beach and Tom Hicks.
But transition officials said the Trump sons were listed on the document without their permission and have asked the Texas secretary of state to remove their names.
Brinkerhoff confirmed that they should not have been named as directors of the Opening Day Foundation. He said that the paperwork filed last week was “not the official filing” and that new documents would be submitted shortly. Still, he said the Trump brothers were “supportive” of the foundation and its goals.
The Jan. 21 event is the kickoff fundraiser for the Opening Day Foundation, which is in the process of seeking recognition by the Internal Revenue Service to operate as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, Brinkerhoff said.
In the meantime, he said, it is operating as a project of the Montana-based Boone and Crockett Club Foundation, named for frontiersmen Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett.
However, Greg Duncan, a spokesman for the club — which sponsors conservation-education programs, advocates for wilderness conservation and maintains a database of North American records for big-game hunting — said the group is still “considering” whether to take part in the fundraiser.
No matter which group benefits from the event, watchdog groups said the arrangement is effectively selling wealthy donors access to the highest office in the land.
“Those people who contribute are not going because they’re dying to spend time with Eric Trump,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “They’re going because they’re the president’s sons, and they hope that their donations get them something in return.”