A record $107 million was raised for Trump’s inauguration. So where did it all go? No one will say.
WASHINGTON — Nearly a year after President Trump’s inauguration, the committee that raised a record $106.7 million for the event has not disclosed how much surplus money it still has or provided a final accounting of its finances.
“We must decline comment at this time,” Kristin Celauro, a spokeswoman for the inaugural committee’s chairman, Thomas Barrack, said this week in response to a USA TODAY inquiry about the committee’s finances.
Barrack, a California investment manager and longtime Trump friend, has said consistently that remaining funds would go charity. He announced plans in September to give $3 million to three non-profit groups —The American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and Samaritan’s Purse — to help with hurricane relief efforts and said the committee planned more contributions “that serve America’s agenda.”
Officials with the American Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse, a group led by evangelist Franklin Graham, declined to comment this week about the inaugural committee donations, saying they do not disclose contributor information. Officials with the Salvation Army did not immediately respond to an inquiry.
Presidential inaugural committees are private fundraising vehicles that pay for the concerts, balls and other festivities that surround the swearing-in. Trump’s committee raised twice the $53.2 million President Obama collected for his first inauguration.
The record haul was fueled by big checks from individuals and companies — some with interests before the government. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson was the single largest donor, contributing $5 million, Federal Election Commission records show. The billionaire joined dignitaries on the West Front of the Capitol for a prime viewing of Trump's swearing-in.
Adelson was among an array of wealthy individuals and corporate giants contributing to the celebrations, including the Bank of America, AT&T, Dow Chemical, Boeing and Quicken Loans.
Within 90 days of the inauguration, the committee must report names of donors who gave at least $200. But election law does not require an accounting of the spending in those reports. And there are few restrictions on how leftover funds are used.
Fred Wertheimer, of the Democracy 21 watchdog group, said the committee, as a nonprofit, can’t legally convert any of the funds to personal use, such as paying legal expenses for Trump aides caught up in the special counsel and congressional probes into Russian involvement in the 2016 election.
“It’s not a piggybank,” he said.
Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for first lady Melania Trump, has said some of the leftover funds went to renovation to the White House and the Naval Observatory, where Vice President Pence and his family live. This week, Grisham referred a question to the inaugural committee about the amount spent.
Steve Kerrigan, who served as chief of staff for Obama’s first inaugural committee and chairman for his second inauguration, said it was “entirely appropriate” to use surplus money for renovations to the White House. Obama did the same and also funded some public outreach programs, such as the Easter Egg Roll, with the leftover donations.
But Kerrigan, who is running for Congress from Massachusetts, said it’s “shocking” that Trump’s team is not disclosing more information about how they are spending the record amount they collected for relatively modest celebrations. Trump attended three official balls, for instance, compared to Obama’s 10.
“It is alarming that you would potentially have at least $50 million left over and no sense of how it was spent,” he said. Kerrigan said if he’s elected to Congress, he would draft a bill to create more transparency in inaugural spending.