Donald Trump wants voters to believe that he cares deeply about veterans and proved it by skipping Thursday’s Republican debate to raise money for organizations serving them.
But the billionaire developer’s latest stunt was all about him and his feud with Fox News, not about helping those who served. While he did raise $6 million (including $1 million of his own money), those funds all went to the Donald J. Trump Foundation — a tax-exempt non-profit entity that generally gives barely $1 million a year to charity, let alone to veterans’ groups (the last time it disbursed more than a million dollars was in 2012). Indeed, Trump is reputed to be “the least charitable billionaire in the world.”
He donated $5.5 million between 2009 and 2013, a tiny drop in the bucket for a man who is apparently worth $4.5 billion. According to the latest filings available, his foundation donated only $540,000 in 2014 — with $100,000, a fifth of all donations, going to a group listed as “Citizens United.” If that is the same group whose Supreme Court litigation led to the legalization of limitless political campaign expenditures, it received 10 times the amount of money that the Green Beret Foundation, a charity that helps Green Berets when they return home, received from the Trump Foundation in 2014.
His foundation’s record validates claims by veterans groups that they were being used as props in Trump’s campaign to make him seem the victim of Fox News.
Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, tweeted before the Trump fundraising event: “If offered, @IAVA will decline donations from Trump’s event. We need strong policies from candidates, not to be used for political stunts.” Founded in 2005, IAVA has more than 180,000 members and provides support for over 2.8 million veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, according to its website.
Trump’s foundation, for its part, released a list of the charities that will be receiving the money raised at his counter-programing event. It includes 22 veterans organizations from over a dozen states. But the campaign has not commented on how the groups were selected or how the money will be distributed. If the money is distributed evenly, each organization would stand to receive around $272,000.
By avoiding the last Republican debate before the Iowa primary, Trump sent a clear message to the Republican establishment. He doesn’t need their approval to win over voters.
But it isn’t clear Trump won that battle, even if the debate had the second lowest ratings in this election cycle. The presidential campaign has been going on for nearly a year, the debate was the seventh one for the Republican candidates and it was held on a weeknight. Those factors may explain the lower ratings — and more Americans tuned in for the debate than for Trump’s rival event.