Presidential inaugurations typically bring in tens of millions of dollars in donations, but President Trump went above and beyond that for his big event. He reeled in more than $100 million, setting an inauguration fundraising record. But now, observers and government transparency critics want to look into that record-breaking fundraising because nobody knows where Trump's leftover inauguration funds went — except that they don't appear to have gone to charity as promised.
As Newsweek reported on Friday, the Trump team brought in a whopping $107 million for the big day. We don't know exactly how much Trump spent to stage his inauguration, but he almost certainly didn't spent that entire amount, according to the government watchdog Public Citizen.
"The inauguration embodied the precise casual corruption Trump had denounced throughout the campaign and said that he alone could solve," Robert Weissman, the group's president, told Newsweek, adding:
When it comes to the missing funds, there’s no good story to be told for Trump. Either he wasted the money for his inauguration on the frontend, there’s illegal misspending on the backend, or they’re planning on donating the leftover cash to charity, but have been too busy and unorganized to follow through.
Trump’s $107 million fundraising haul set the all-time record for an inauguration, approximately doubling the amount Obama brought in eight years prior. This was achieved in large part thanks to Trump accepting top-dollar corporate donations, something Obama didn’t do in 2009. Obama did take corporate donations for his 2013 inauguration, however.
In the aftermath of the inauguration, the Trump administration said it planned to donate the leftover funds to charity, a promise that got the president some positive attention. In the months that have followed, however, there has been no obvious follow-through on that promise. In early September, the Associated Press spoke to multi-millionaire real estate investor Tom Barrack, a longtime Trump associate and ally who spearheaded the inauguration planning. Barrack told the AP that the inauguration funds were still headed for charity, although he said the committee wouldn't disclose any details until the end of November.
By the end of September, people really noticed just how long it was taking for the committee to pay out anything to charity. Then Barrack announced $3 million in donations to the American Red Cross, Samaritan's Purse, and the Salvation Army. The money was intended to aid the hurricane recovery process, since harrowing storms had just rocked the greater Houston area, parts of Florida, and, perhaps most devastatingly, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
According to Newsweek, there's no indication that the $3 million Barrack pledged to those charities was ever paid out. Multiple requests for comment the publication placed to the inaugural committee reportedly went unanswered.
This is not the first time that something's been off with Trump's charitable giving. As David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post exhaustively reported over the course of the 2016 campaign, Trump frequently trumpeted his own charitable giving as a private citizen, despite not having made many of the donations he's claimed.
It remains to be seen whether the inauguration funds will be yet another example of this, or whether the committee indeed releases more details about where the money is going at the end of the month. The fact that Newsweek found no evidence of the hurricane relief donations announced in September isn't very encouraging, however. Neither is how Public Citizen's Craig Holman described trying to get a response from the committee about the hurricane relief donations. Specifically, he told Newsweek that his letters requesting an explanation had been returned to him, and that "it appears they closed up shop." In other words, we've got an unsolved mystery on our hands.