It seemed like Eric Trump actually started out with the best of intentions when founding his Eric Trump Foundation to support research into children's cancer by raising lots of money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the leading pediatric cancer center. He threw huge annual golf events (at the family's golf course, naturally), with all of the money raised going to the hospital because daddy didn't charge anything to use the venue and all the other costs were comped.
While it might have started out with the best of intentions on Eric's part, daddy then got ahold of him and reminded him that just looking good isn't enough if you don't profit directly. That's the picture that emerges from a Forbes investigation by Dan Alexander.
In reviewing filings from the Eric Trump Foundation and other charities, it's clear that the course wasn't free--that the Trump Organization received payments for its use, part of more than $1.2 million that has no documented recipients past the Trump Organization. Golf charity experts say the listed expenses defy any reasonable cost justification for a one-day golf tournament.
Additionally, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which has come under previous scrutiny for self-dealing and advancing the interests of its namesake rather than those of charity, apparently used the Eric Trump Foundation to funnel $100,000 in donations into revenue for the Trump Organization.
And while donors to the Eric Trump Foundation were told their money was going to help sick kids, more than $500,000 was re-donated to other charities, many of which were connected to Trump family members or interests, including at least four groups that subsequently paid to hold golf tournaments at Trump courses.
All of this seems to defy federal tax rules and state laws that ban self-dealing and misleading donors. It also raises larger questions about the Trump family dynamics and whether Eric and his brother, Don Jr., can be truly independent of their father.
In the first several years of Eric Trump's foundation, the golf tournament seemed to be functioning relatively normally, with expenses averaging about $50,000—higher than you would think would be necessary if the golf course was being offered for nothing, but not out of bounds. Then in 2011, the foundation's tax filings show the costs ballooned from $46,000 to $142,000. Why?
"In the early years, they weren't being billed [for the club]—the bills would just disappear," says Ian Gillule, who served as membership and marketing director at Trump National Westchester during two stints from 2006 to 2015 and witnessed how Donald Trump reacted to the tournament's economics. "Mr. Trump had a cow. He flipped. He was like, 'We're donating all of this stuff, and there's no paper trail? No credit?' And he went nuts. He said, 'I don't care if it's my son or not—everybody gets billed.'"
Then there's that $100,000 in outside donations that the Donald J. Trump Foundation collected to go to the Eric Trump Foundation, to cover the increased cost of using the Trump golf course—in other words, daddy's foundation giving other people's money to Eric so that Eric could give it to Trump's private business. As Alexander describes it, "this maneuver would appear to have more in common with a drug cartel's money-laundering operation than a charity's best-practices textbook."
By 2015, the costs for the golf tournament ballooned to $322,000, with no clear explanation for why. Eric Trump insists that the golf course, the drinks, and the entertainment were all comped. It's hard to imagine that the single event cost that much in terms of staff time, and those expenses—overhead and salaries—are included in other IRS filings.
Even if the Eric Trump Foundation had to pay the full rate for literally everything, Forbes couldn't come up with a plausible path to $322,000 given the parameters of the annual event (a golf outing for about 200 and dinner for perhaps 400 more). Neither could golf tournament experts or the former head golf professional at Trump National Westchester. "If you gave me that much money to run a tournament, I couldn't imagine what we could do," says Patrick Langan, who worked at the club from 2006 to 2015. "It certainly wasn't done that way."
Who knows where the money went? But it seems a likely bet that it's somewhere in the private coffers of the Trump Organization—particularly since that huge explosion in costs for the annual tournament coincided with an influx of new board members to Eric's foundation. In 2010, four of the original board members who were personal friends of Eric departed. The original seven-member board became a 14-member board made up mostly of Trump Organization employees including Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and executive vice president Dan Scavino Jr.
"They were wearing two hats," says Langan, the former director of golf, who says he sat in on meetings where he couldn't tell where the business ended and the charity began. "You're dealing with people talking about the event and the charity who also at the same time are thinking about it as a corporation and as a business. It's a for-profit club. You know, they're trying to make money."
The good news is, Eric Trump has actually raised a lot of money for St. Jude—$2.9 million just last year—and "the foundation's money has funded research into a rare form of cancer." The bad news is it could have raised even more if it wasn't another vehicle for this family of grifters to line their own pockets, maybe illegally. Eric Trump isn't doing the fundraising personally anymore and the foundation is now calling itself Curetivity.
And holding its golf events at the Trump National Golf Course.