âTrump, Inc.â Podcast: Whereâd Trumpâs Record Inauguration Spending Go? âItâs Inexplicableâ
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Last month, the committee that ran President Donald Trumpâs inaugural festivities released basic details about its revenues and spending. Trump raised $107 million, almost twice the previous record, and spent $104 million. The committeeâs tax filing showed that $26 million of the spending went to an event planning firm started in December by a friend of the first lady.
Itâs not clear how the firm spent that money, or how most of the money raised for the inauguration was used. The tax filing doesnât show spending by subcontractors, nor is it required to do so.
In this weekâs episode of âTrump, Inc.,â we dig into the inauguration. Weâve found that even experienced inaugural planners are baffled by the Trump committeeâs massive fundraising and spending operation. We also noticed that two members of the inaugural committee have been convicted of financial crimes, and a third â the committeeâs treasurer â was reportedly an unindicted co-conspirator in an accounting fraud.
Greg Jenkins led former President George W. Bushâs second inaugural committee in 2005, which raised and spent $42 million (that would be $53 million in todayâs dollars). Asked about how Trumpâs team managed to spend so much more, Jenkins said, âItâs inexplicable to me. I literally donât know.â
âThey had a third of the staff and a quarter of the events and they raise at least twice as much as we did,â Jenkins said. âSo thereâs the obvious question: Where did it go? I donât know.â
Steve Kerrigan, who led both of former President Barack Obamaâs inaugural committees, agreed. âThere was no need for that amount of money,â said Kerrigan. âWe literally did two inaugurations for less than the cost of that.â
According to Trumpâs filing, slightly more than half of the money went to four event planning companies, including the firm owned by the first ladyâs friend, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. Her company, WIS Media Partners, paid the co-creator of âThe Apprentice,â Mark Burnett, to help with the festivities, as The New York Times reported.
Melania Trump has since cut off her work with Wolkoff after the disclosure of the spending. Wolkoff and WIS Media Partners did not respond to a request for comment.
We asked the White House and the inaugural committee about fundraising and spending related to the inauguration. Officials did not agree to be interviewed on the record.
We also looked at members of the inaugural committee, which had about 30 people in leadership and fundraising roles.
The committeeâs treasurer, Doug Ammerman, was named by prosecutors as an unindicted co-conspirator in a tax shelter fraud in the early 2000s, according to The Wall Street Journal. Ammerman was a partner at the accounting firm KPMG, which later admitted criminal liability. A Senate investigation from the time includes emails from Ammerman suggesting he was aware of the scheme.
Ammerman is also currently accused in a shareholder lawsuit of dumping stock in a grilled chicken chain, El Pollo Loco, where he was on the board, ahead of a bad quarterly report. Ammerman did not respond to requests for comment.
The finance vice-chair for the inaugural committee, Elliott Broidy, pleaded guilty in 2009 to paying bribes to get investments from the New York state pension fund. His felony conviction was later downgraded to a misdemeanor. Broidy, a top Trump fundraiser, has also come under scrutiny in special counsel Robert Muellerâs investigation. Broidy did not respond to requests for comment.
Another inaugural organizer was Rick Gates, the former deputy to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Gates pleaded guilty this year to lying to the FBI and to conspiracy in a vast money laundering scheme, charges that came from Muellerâs office.
At the time that Gates worked on the inauguration, he had not been indicted, but his dealings with former Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych had already come under scrutiny. Gatesâ business partner, Manafort, was forced off of the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016 after it was reported he got nearly $13 million of undisclosed payments from Yanukovych. Gates did not respond to requests for comment.
We found one more thing that set this inauguration apart: Some of the donations are almost impossible to trace. As the Center for Responsive Politics reports, two âdark moneyâ groups, which do not disclose their donors, gave $1 million each. Trumpâs inaugural committee appears to have been the first to accept significant donations from dark money groups.
Kerrigan, Obamaâs inauguration chief, said he would have rejected a check from a group designed to preserve donor anonymity. âI would have said, âProve who you are and if you canât pass vet, Iâll have to give the check back,ââ Kerrigan said.
There are also, of course, many donors we do know about. Like other presidents, Trump raised millions from corporate contributions and wealthy individuals. The securities and investment industry contributed the most, nearly $15 million. Other top industries included real estate, casinos, oil and gas, and mining â each of which later benefited from various presidential initiatives and policies. The existence of a contribution, of course, doesnât mean thatâs the reason for a policy change.
Remember, we want to hear from you: Help us answer all the questions that Trumpâs inaugural committee wonât. Do you have information about how the money was spent or what subcontractors were used?
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