Two weeks after President Trump nominated Florida businessman Leandro Rizzuto Jr. to be ambassador to Barbados, Rizzuto pledged thousands of dollars to fund a gala at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, the gala’s organizer said.
Rizzuto and his wife, Denise, have committed to be “underwriters” for next year’s Trumpettes USA gala at the club in Palm Beach, Fla., according to Toni Holt Kramer, the founder of the Trumpettes.
The Trumpettes are a group of Palm Beach-based socialites and Trump supporters whose galas aren’t intended to raise money for charity — instead, most or all of the money they bring in goes to pay Trump’s club.
Kramer said the Rizzutos had pledged to support the 2019 gala at the “presidential” level — the most expensive kind of sponsorship. The less-expensive kinds are “vice presidential” and “five-star general.”
Kramer wouldn’t say how much money, exactly, the Rizzutos had pledged: “They have already committed to a number. But. . . I don’t want to say it without their permission.” But she said a “presidential” level of support would likely involve “upwards of probably $15,000 or $20,000 or $25,000.”
Kramer said Rizzuto made that commitment around Jan. 18, the date of the first-ever Trumpettes gala.
That was two weeks after Trump nominated Rizzuto to be ambassador to Barbados, as well as to several other small Caribbean nations.
The White House did not respond to questions about whether Rizzuto had discussed this pledge with Trump.
Rizzuto is a former top executive at Conair, the beauty-product and home-appliance business founded by his father. The government said he has stepped down from day-to-day management of the company.
Rizzuto did not respond to emails seeking comment. When The Washington Post called, a Conair staffer declined to comment on Rizzuto’s behalf.
“He told me he can’t talk to any reporters prior to going to the Senate,” said Roxanne DeCarlo, executive accounting manager at Conair.
Kramer said she wants to keep the gala’s ticket prices low, at least by Palm Beach’s standards: This year, they were $300 each.
But at those prices, she said, the revenue from tickets alone won’t cover the cost of a massive gala at Trump’s club. In the past, other events at that club have cost $275,000 or more.
That, Kramer said, means she must find additional revenue from big-ticket donors. She calls these donors “underwriters,” and she’s already trying to find them for the 2019 gala.
In January, she asked Rizzuto’s wife — a longtime friend — whether she’d be one.
“She talked to her husband, and they said — within a day or two — they said, yes, they would underwrite,” Kramer said. “They’re big fans of the president. They’re huge fans.”
Kramer dismissed the idea that Rizzuto’s pledge might have been related to his nomination as ambassador.
“Oh, God, no,” she said, noting that Rizzuto and his wife were longtime friends of hers. “They’re not doing it because they want to be in good graces with the president. They’re doing it because they want this country to run right.” The Trumpettes, in addition to putting on the party, urge attendees to support the president politically.
The Trumpettes are organized as a nonprofit in Florida but have not obtained recognition as a charity by the IRS.
After Rizzuto’s nomination, CNN reported that he had used Twitter to spread unfounded attacks and conspiracy theories about Trump’s political opponents during the 2016 campaign.
Rizzuto must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. At the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which would consider his nomination first, a committee staffer said that Rizzuto’s first hearing had not yet been scheduled and that Rizzuto had not completed the required paperwork.
Lori Rozsa contributed to this report.