In January, Donald Trump skipped a televised Republican debate in Iowa and held his own event instead — a rally to raise money for veterans. Trump said it was a huge success.
“One hour. Six million dollars,” Trump told a campaign rally in Iowa a few days later, boasting about the total raised. He listed more than 20 groups that would receive money. “These people that get these checks are amazing people, amazing people.”
More than a month later, about half of the money, roughly $3 million, has been donated to veterans’ charities, according to a summary released Thursday by the Trump campaign in response to inquiries from The Washington Post.
In recent days, after the campaign initially did not provide details of where the money had gone, The Post had undertaken its own accounting. After contacting each of the 24 charities that Trump had previously listed as his beneficiaries, The Post had accounted for less than half of the $6 million.
Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Trump’s campaign, said Trump still intended to give the rest of the money away to veterans groups. She also criticized the news media for repeated inquiries into what became of the funds.
“If the media spent half as much time highlighting the work of these groups and how our veterans have been so mistreated, rather than trying to disparage Mr. Trump’s generosity for a totally unsolicited gesture for which he had no obligation, we would all be better for it,” Hicks wrote in an email.
Trump’s fundraiser highlighted the billionaire presidential candidate’s remarkable ability to draw people, attention and money to any cause he chooses. Trump enticed enormous gifts from wealthy friends, including Stewart Rahr, a colorful New York philanthropist who calls himself “Stewie Rah Rah, the Number One King of All Fun.” Their money became life-altering gifts for some small charities, which received $50,000 or $100,000 each.
But the aftermath of that event showed another side of Trump’s campaign: its tendency to focus on front-end spectacle over back-end details. The rollout of contributions has raised questions about how long Trump would keep donated funds within the Donald J. Trump Foundation, a personal charity whose gifts can boost his political brand.
“Where’s the rest of the money going?” said Keith David at the Task Force Dagger Foundation, which offers support to Special Operations personnel and their families.
David’s group typifies the confusion over Trump’s money. It was listed by Trump as a group that would benefit from his fundraising. And soon after the Iowa fundraising event, the group got a check for $50,000. It came from Rahr’s foundation, with a note that mentioned Trump.
But was that it? The group’s board — noting the huge amount of money that Trump raised and the lesser amount of money Trump seemed to have given out — decided it could not be.
“There’s a large chunk missing. I’m just kind of curious as to where that money went,” David said. “I’d like to see some of it come to us, because we are on the list.”
The list, as given out by Trump’s campaign Thursday, does not show any more donations going for David’s group.
Trump’s veterans fundraiser was, if nothing else, a smart bit of political theater.
It allowed Trump, who was feuding with Fox News Channel at the time, to boycott a GOP debate that Fox was hosting — and, at the same time, claim both the moral high ground and a prime-time TV spotlight for himself that competed directly with the debate he was skipping.
“We set up the website. I called some friends. And the sign was just given: We just cracked $6 million,” Trump said, savoring the moment at the end. He announced that the money would be divided among more than 20 veterans’ groups: “They’re going to get a lot of money. Everybody is going to get a lot of money,” he said.
Some of that money was raised from small donors online, at the website donaldtrumpforvets.
com. That site now says it has raised $1.67 million.
But the bulk of the $6 milllion was raised from a small group of Trump’s very wealthy friends.
Not all of them gave in the same way.
Billionaire investor Carl Icahn gave $500,000 and sent it directly to two groups: a charity to help Army Green Berets and another for Navy SEALs. Another $1 million came from Rahr.
Trump offered Rahr a menu of veterans’ charities, Rahr associate Steve Burns said in an email. Rahr chose 11, based on a review of “missions and financials. We felt they were the best ones in helping the vets,” Burns said.
The $1.5 million in donations from Icahn and Rahr, which bypassed the Trump Foundation, are easy to track. Associates of the two men said they have given the money directly to the charities, and multiple charities said they had received it.
But other benefactors gave their money to the Trump Foundation, so Trump could divvy it up himself. One was Phil Ruffin, a Las Vegas casino mogul, who gave $1 million. “He trusts Mr. Trump to make that decision,” a spokeswoman said.
In all, Trump’s campaign said the Trump Foundation had given out about $1.1 million so far. Hicks, Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, did not immediately respond to a question about how much of the money raised for veterans remains in the accounts of the Trump Foundation.
In the days that followed the Iowa fundraiser, the donations — ostensibly, apolitical gifts to needy veterans — became a centerpiece of Trump’s campaign rallies. He would frequently call the leaders of local charities up onstage and hand them a huge check in front of the cameras and the crowds.
“I thought I was going to faint, because we had no idea — until that check came up on the stage — we had no idea what we were getting,” said Cindy Brodie of Partners for Patriots, which trains service dogs to help veterans with disabilities.
At the time of Trump’s fundraiser, Brodie and her husband had been struggling to keep themselves and the charity afloat. But then a veteran whom they had helped met Trump at a campaign event elsewhere in Iowa.
And then Brodie was being called up onstage by the billionaire and handed an oversized $100,000 check.
But — after the campaign moved on from Iowa — Trump’s donations seemed to lag behind his promises. In early February, the Wall Street Journal reported that many groups began to get their checks only after the Journal asked the Trump campaign why they had not.
Trump’s figures show the biggest beneficiary was the Navy SEAL Foundation, a Virginia-based group that helps Navy Special Operations forces and their families. It received $450,000, according to Trump’s campaign. The Green Beret Foundation, which helps Army Special Forces soldiers and their families, got $350,000. Two other groups got $200,000. Fourteen charities got $100,000 each. Six got $50,000 each, and two others got less.
“Our budget is, like, $40,000 a year,” said Sarah Petersen, the founder of Support Siouxland Soldiers, which provides emergency relief to homeless or near-homeless veterans in Iowa. Trump gave the group $100,000. “Our largest donation was $10,000. So this is a pretty big deal for us.”
Hicks, the spokeswoman for Trump’s campaign, declined to give details about how the rest of the money would be handed out.
“We will continue to allocate contributions to groups that have been announced,” Hicks said, “as well as additional groups that are being considered.”
What additional groups?
Hicks could only name one: a Queens-based nonprofit called Veterans-in-Command, which provides housing, food and job counseling to veterans. In that case, the Trump Foundation dipped into its veterans funds to present a donation.
Which happened to solve a political headache for Trump himself.
At the time of the donation, the New York media was mocking Trump for mishandling a past request the group had made for a donation. Instead of money, the Trump campaign had sent them Trump bumper stickers.
“He called us, and he apologized, and he did the right thing by us,” said Larry Robertson, the Queens group’s president. Trump paid off some old debts and paid for one year’s rent on a new office, a total gift worth about $26,200.
That was 0.4 percent of the money Trump said he’d raised for veterans. The Queens group is hoping it is the beginning, not the end, of a relationship.
“We’re going to have a grand opening. Hopefully he’s going to be here,” Robertson said in a telephone interview. “It’s going to be about another week. He’ll be here.”