School bands play at Trump’s businesses, and his charity writes the checks

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Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club (Staff Photo by Damon Higgins/The Palm Beach Post)

Donald Trump used his charitable foundation to cut checks totaling at least $20,000 to three Palm Beach County public schools, with each donation coming after the school’s students gave a musical performance at a private event at one of his properties, according to foundation records and school district officials.

Between 2012 and 2014, the Trump Foundation sent donations to Dwyer High School, Bak Middle School and Boynton Beach High School. In each case, school officials say the payments came after the schools’ bands or choruses gave free performances at the Mar-a-Lago Club or one of Trump’s golf courses.

Federal tax rules generally prevent foundation money from being used for the private benefit of a foundation’s operator. But a school district spokeswoman said that the school musical groups had agreed to appear at no charge, as they often do, and that the checks came only afterward.

Donald Trump (Bill Ingram/ The Palm Beach Post)

Donald Trump (Bill Ingram/ The Palm Beach Post)

“The kids performed for free,” district spokeswoman Kathy Burstein said. “These were voluntary donations made after the kids performed.”

The foundation’s payments likely would not skirt federal prohibitions against self-dealing unless the donations were promised ahead of the performance, an expert on non-profit spending rules told The Palm Beach Post.

But details of the donations come amid months of scrutiny this year of the Trump Foundation’s apparent acts of self-dealing, which experts have said often appeared to violate federal rules.

In one case, The Washington Post found that Trump had used foundation money to buy a portrait of himself at a fundraising auction for another non-profit. In another case, Trump used foundation money to settle lawsuits involving his for-profit businesses.

Trump also paid an IRS fine for using foundation money to contribute $25,000 to a campaign group supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

After each public school’s performance, the performing school received $5,000, records show. Dwyer got a check in 2012, Bak Middle received checks in 2013 and 2014, and Boynton Beach High received a check in 2014.

(Dwyer also received a separate $1,000 donation in 2013, according to The Washington Post, though it’s not clear whether it was related to musical performances.)

Special to Neighborhood Post Caption JUPITER – Members of William T. Dwyer High School's marching band march in step during their performance in the 1992 Jupiter-Tequesta Athletic Association Holiday Parade.

Members of William T. Dwyer High School’s marching band march during a performance in 1992. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

The students from Dwyer and Boynton Beach High performed at events at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, Burstein said, while Bak students performed at least twice at holiday parties at one of Trump’s golf courses.

Brett Kappel, a Washington D.C. tax attorney with expertise in non-profit spending rules, said that judging whether a donation violates self-dealing rules hinges on whether the payment was promised as compensation for the performance.

“You can’t use a foundation to pay a business expense and you can’t use a foundation to pay a personal expense,” he said. “So the question is, Was this contribution was given in exchange for something?”

But, he added, it’s not unusual for school groups to give free performances in the hopes of receiving charitable contributions afterward.

“It’s not exactly a quid pro quo,” he said. “It’s a very common fundraising technique for bands and choirs and those kind of things.”

Tax records indicate that Trump stopped contributing his own money to his foundation in 2008, The Washington Post reported. Since then, the foundation’s contributions have been made entirely from other people’s money.

 

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