Trump in­au­gu­ral funds haven’t gone to char­ity

Com­mit­tee pledged to do­nate left­over funds, only paid for dec­o­rat­ing White House, res­i­dence

Santa Fe New Mexican - - NATION - By Jeff Hor­witz and Julie Bykow­icz

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tee raised an un­prece­dented $107 mil­lion for a cer­e­mony that of­fi­cials promised would be “work­man­like,” and the com­mit­tee pledged to give left­over funds to char­ity. Nearly eight months later, the group has helped pay for re­dec­o­rat­ing at the White House and the vice pres­i­dent’s res­i­dence in Wash­ing­ton.

But noth­ing has yet gone to char­ity.

What is left from the mas­sive fundrais­ing is a mys­tery, clouded by messy and, at times, bud­get-bust­ing man­age­ment of a pri­vate fund that re­quires lit­tle pub­lic dis­clo­sure. The As­so­ci­ated Press spoke with eight people — ven­dors, donors and Trump as­so­ci­ates — in­volved in plan­ning and po­lit­i­cal fundrais­ing for the cel­e­bra­tion, an event that pro­vides an early look at the new pres­i­dent’s man­age­ment style and pri­or­i­ties. The people de­scribed a chaotic process marked by last-minute de­ci­sions, staffing turnover and lit­tle fi­nan­cial over­sight.

Among the head-scratch­ing line-items was the pre-in­au­gu­ral Lin­coln Memorial con­cert, which came with a $25 mil­lion price tag, ac­cord­ing to four of the people. The price dwarfs a sim­i­lar event staged eight years ear­lier for Obama’s first in­au­gu­ra­tion. One per­son fa­mil­iar with the com­mit­tee’s think­ing said the $25 mil­lion in­cluded broad­cast­ing costs and other events, com­pli­cat­ing an ap­ples-to-ap­ples com­par­i­son with past in­au­gu­ral con­cert ex­penses.

Other people fa­mil­iar with the com­mit­tee’s ac­tiv­i­ties be­fore and after the in­au­gu­ra­tion said its ef­forts were hob­bled by a short­age of staff with rel­e­vant ex­pe­ri­ence.

Tom Bar­rack, chair­man of the pri­vate Pres­i­den­tial In­au­gu­ral Com­mit­tee, and other for­mer com­mit­tee of­fi­cials said the in­au­gu­ra­tion was a great suc­cess but de­clined to an­swer de­tailed ques­tions from AP about how money was spent. Bar­rack said that keep­ing the books closed was no dif­fer­ent from any past in­au­gu­ra­tion.

In a re­cent state­ment, Bar­rack said the com­mit­tee’s do­na­tions to char­ity “surely will ex­ceed any pre­vi­ous in­au­gu­ra­tion,” but will have to wait un­til the end of Novem­ber, when he said the com­mit­tee will pub­licly dis­close de­tails about its fi­nances.

Bar­rack told the AP in June that “a full and clean ex­ter­nal au­dit has been con­ducted and com­pleted” of the in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tee’s fi­nances, though the com­mit­tee would not share a copy with AP or say who per­formed it.

Two Trump as­so­ci­ates fa­mil­iar with ef­forts to sort out the fi­nanc­ing said they were un­aware of a com­pleted third­party au­dit. Three people said the de­lay in dol­ing out left­over money comes amid on­go­ing con­fu­sion about how much is left after the Jan. 20 cel­e­bra­tion.

The people spoke only on con­di­tion of anonymity in or­der to re­veal de­tails about pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions.

Lead­ers of pre­vi­ous in­au­gu­ra­tions ex­pressed sur­prise at the slow time­line. They say they had a gen­eral han­dle on their fi­nances — and had al­ready started giv­ing money away — within three months of In­au­gu­ra­tion Day, though for­mally clos­ing down the com­mit­tees took many months longer.

“The thing about in­au­gu­ral ex­penses, they’re not com­pli­cated,” said Steve Ker­ri­gan, head of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s 2013 in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tee. “You take money in, you pay it out, and then you know what you’re left with when it’s done.”

Be­cause in­au­gu­ra­tion funds are pri­vate money, there are few lim­its on how left­over money can be used. Pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions have used it to sup­ple­ment bud­gets for work on the White House res­i­dence or events like the an­nual Easter Egg Roll.

Trump’s in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tee was ag­gres­sive in its fundrais­ing.

While both Obama and Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush both lim­ited the size of in­di­vid­ual and cor­po­rate do­na­tions. Trump’s com­mit­tee al­lowed un­lim­ited in­di­vid­ual do­na­tions and cor­po­rate do­na­tions of up to $1 mil­lion.

The com­mit­tee’s to­tal haul of $107 mil­lion was nearly twice that of Obama’s in­au­gu­ra­tion in 2009.

The spend­ing got out of hand, ac­cord­ing to ven­dors and oth­ers in­volved with the plan­ning.

“They blew out their bud­gets on so many things,” said one per­son in the events in­dus­try who re­quested anonymity in or­der to pre­serve pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ships.

The com­mit­tee got a late start, ac­cord­ing to people in the events in­dus­try and Trump as­so­ci­ates. That guar­an­teed the work would be rushed and done at higher cost.

A sec­ond ma­jor prob­lem, ac­cord­ing to people in­volved in the work, was that the com­mit­tee failed to hire em­ploy­ees with past in­au­gu­ra­tion plan­ning ex­pe­ri­ence.

A fi­nal fac­tor in the events’ high costs, said people who worked on the in­au­gu­ra­tion, was plan­ners’ re­lent­less fo­cus on en­sur­ing TV qual­ity pro­duc­tion for nearly ev­ery de­tail — even ones that were un­likely to be tele­vised. Broad­cast­ing is “what threw the bud­gets out the win­dow,” said one per­son who worked on the in­au­gu­ra­tion.

EVAN VUCCI/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump dances with first lady Me­la­nia Trump in Jan­uary at The Salute To Our Armed Ser­vices In­au­gu­ral Ball in Wash­ing­ton. When Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tee raised an un­prece­dented $107 mil­lion for a cer­e­mony that of­fi­cials promised would be ‘work­man­like,’ the com­mit­tee pledged to give left­over funds to char­ity. Nearly eight months later, noth­ing has gone to char­ity.

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