KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Donald Trump says he's given away millions of dollars to charity. Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold fact-checked that. He found that Donald Trump does have a charitable organization, the Donald J. Trump Foundation started in 1987, but it's not like other family foundations. David Fahrenthold is with us to explain why. Welcome.
DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: Thank you.
MCEVERS: So how is the Trump Foundation different from other family foundations?
FAHRENTHOLD: The expectation with family foundations is that if your name is on the foundation, unless you're dead, it's your money that's being given away. And even if you are dead, it was your money before. And Trump has sort of turned that on its head.
Instead, he hasn't put any money into his own foundation since '08. He has other people donate to his foundation. He gives their money away from the Donald J. Trump Foundation with his name on the checks and often leaves people with the impression that what he's giving away is his own money when it's actually not.
MCEVERS: So he's - the foundation is basically like a middleman to take money from one person and give it to another.
FAHRENTHOLD: Yes. Trump has a lot of contacts in the world of charity because he rents out ballrooms, hotel ballrooms, the ballroom at Mar-a-Lago to charities. Charities are often the ones that rent out these ballrooms for big events. And so this enables him to support the charities that do business with him, you know, keep in their good graces without actually having to sacrifice any of his own money. So it's a pretty good deal in one way but only if you don't expect that your charitable giving is a way of giving actually something of yourself.
MCEVERS: Explain what happened with the Palm Beach Police Foundation.
FAHRENTHOLD: Sure. The Palm Beach Police Foundation is a client of Trump's. They pay to rent out Mar-a-Lago every year. So a few years ago he decided to give them a donation, but he didn't actually use his money or even the money in his foundation. Instead, he approached another foundation, the foundation of a deceased friend, and asked them. He said, look; I'm collecting money for the Palm Beach Police Foundation; can you give me some?
He basically took the money they gave him - $150,000 - and passed it directly onto the Palm Beach Police Foundation without adding any money of his own. As a result, Trump wins an award for his philanthropy, and the Charles Evans Foundation doesn't get any recognition in that transaction.
MCEVERS: Was the Charles Evans Foundation OK with the fact that the money went through Trump onto the Palm Beach Police?
FAHRENTHOLD: Yes. I talked to a trustee of that foundation, actually the widow of the person who established it. And she said that, you know, they like Trump, and they thought he was raising money for the Palm Beach Police Foundation.
But they did eventually realize that they didn't actually have to go through Donald Trump as the middleman, and actually their gifts went up. They started giving directly to the Palm Beach Police Foundation which now has a scholarship named after Charles Evans, the person who founded their foundation.
MCEVERS: Another thing you found is that Donald Trump has actually used money that comes into the foundation to buy things for himself. Tell us about that.
FAHRENTHOLD: That's right. The IRS rules prohibit people who manage foundations for obvious reasons from using the charity's money to buy things for themself. So Trump appears to have violated that in at least two cases. One was in 2012. He was at a charity auction for the Susan G. Komen breast cancer charity. He paid $12,000 for a Tim Tebow football helmet, paid with the foundation's money.
Then in 2007 - we just learned about this one - Trump is at a gala in Palm Beach where as part of the night's entertainment, there's a speed painter, a guy who paints a painting in five minutes. He paints a painting of Trump. Melania Trump bids on it. She's the only bidder, and she gets it for $20,000. Again, the foundation pays.
Even though in the end the recipients of the money, the people they were paying, were charities, it doesn't matter. You're still buying something that you're going to keep for yourself, and you can't do that with the charity's money.
MCEVERS: Is any of this a crime?
FAHRENTHOLD: Well, it's against tax law to buy things for yourself. It's not the kind of crime generally that sends people to jail, but it's the kind of crime that you would have to pay a penalty tax on depending on how much you broke the rules and how long it took you to report it.
In example, sort of a parallel situation is one we've written about a couple of weeks ago where this illegal campaign donation - the Donald J. Trump Foundation is prohibited from giving political gifts, but Trump used it to give a gift to Pam Bondi...
FAHRENTHOLD: ...The Florida attorney general at the time that her office was considering a Trump University fraud allegation. So when we reported that back in March, Trump paid a penalty tax to the IRS which was 10 percent of the value of the illegal gift for having made a prohibited political donation. Some of these other things he's done could trigger that kind of tax if the IRS came down on him.
MCEVERS: And the Trump campaign and Trump's accountants and other business associates did not comment for your most recent article about this. Have they or any of Trump's supporters responded since the story came out?
FAHRENTHOLD: No. In fact I've asked the Trump folks if they were going to do something similar to what they did in March, which is react to our story by self-reporting a violation to the IRS and paying a penalty tax. And I've heard nothing back.
MCEVERS: That's Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold. Thank you very much.
FAHRENTHOLD: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.