Trump faces fundraising questions

  • Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a news conference in New York on Tuesday. He was flanked by two New Hampshire state representatives, who said they made the drive to New York City on Monday to support the presumed GOP nominee. AP

Monitor staff
Published: 5/31/2016 11:43:11 PM

Andrew Biggio couldn’t believe it when he opened the mail last week and found a $75,000 check written out to his charity from the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

The staggering sum is roughly half the yearly budget for New England’s Wounded Veterans Inc., an organization that raises money through its annual Boston Wounded Vet Run and pays out roughly $30,000 a year to five wounded veterans across the region, including New Hampshire.

Biggio never formally applied for any money. He served in Iraq with the son of one of Trump’s bodyguards, he said, who contacted him about the organization nearly a month ago. Even though the check was a surprise, it’s a big win for the all-volunteer group.

“I get stressed out fundraising, making sure I reach this requirement,” said Biggio, the organization’s founder. “This put us so far ahead. I can relax.”

In a testy news conference Tuesday, Trump was flanked by two New Hampshire state representatives as he listed more than 40 charities – including Biggio’s – that he said have received millions of dollars from a fundraiser he held in January.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has been under pressure to account for the money he claimed to have raised for veterans at a telethon-style fundraiser in Iowa, held at the same time as a Fox News GOP debate he boycotted.

Trump previously had declined to disclose which charities received the funds, and his campaign has gone back and forth about how much was raised.

Trump told reporters in New York that his event raised $5.6 million. In addition to the donation to Biggio’s organization, a combined $125,000 went to two veterans assistance organizations based in New Hampshire. Veterans Count received $25,000, and $100,000 went to Liberty House in Manchester, which provides housing to homeless veterans.

Republican Reps. Al Baldasaro and Fred Doucette stood on both sides of Trump throughout the lengthy news conference. At one point, Baldasaro took to the microphone to defend the fundraising and criticize the “liberal media” for making the money an issue.

“You are all focused on the way he is raising money . . . you are not concerned about thousands of veterans on wait lists,” Baldasaro said after Trump motioned for him to take the podium. “Get your head out of your butt and focus on the real issues.”

Baldasaro and Doucette, a Trump campaign co-chairman in New Hampshire, decided on Monday to drive to New York City on their own and support Trump. Baldasaro has become a regular fixture at Trump campaign rallies, appearing at more than 20, in states from Texas to Connecticut, to advocate for veterans issues, he said.

Trump was surprised the pair showed up Tuesday, Doucette said, but very appreciative.

“He is having to defend a good act, it doesn’t make any sense to me,” Doucette said.

Trump has been actively working to divvy up the money since the fundraiser, Doucette said, but it takes time to properly research the organizations. “You can’t just start writing checks to people,” he said.

None of the recipients in New Hampshire, nor Biggio’s organization, applied for the money. Some of it didn’t come directly from Trump’s foundation, according to interviews. A Trump campaign spokeswoman did not answer the Monitor’s questions about how organizations were chosen, or whether an application process existed.

This is the second year Manchester-based Veterans Count has gotten a donation from the Donald J. Trump Foundation. The organization provides a “hand-up” to veterans across the state, whether they need help with utility bills, rent payments or gas cards, to get back on their feet, said Director of Development Joe Emmons.

Both Trump donations have come at the request of radio host Jack Heath, a supporter of Veterans Count, Emmons said.

“Jack actually asked him to support us again this year and he said no problem, and then a couple days later, we received a check,” Emmons said. The money arrived in March. Heath said he asked Trump for a donation during an on-air fundraiser for Veterans Count.

The $25,000 check will be used to help “a very large number of New Hampshire veterans,” Emmons said, adding that the organization spends an average of about $900 per person and serves roughly 460 individuals a month.

Manchester-based Liberty House – with an annual budget of about $300,000 – received a $100,000 check back in February. The organization provides housing for 10 homeless veterans and also gives food and clothing to at least 100 more.

Trump’s campaign asked Libery House Executive Director Keith Howard to accept the donation publicly at a political rally days before the state’s February primary, according to the Daily Beast. But Howard declined, saying the organization couldn’t publicly support a political candidate.

Baldasaro accepted a check at the rally, and then Liberty House received the money a few days later.

The check was issued not by the Donald J. Trump Foundation, but rather by the The Stewart J. Rahr Foundation, Howard said. The Rahr foundation did not return a call for comment, but its website homepage features a picture of Trump, his wife and former president Bill Clinton, among others. According to Forbes, Rahr is a billionaire who sold his pharmaceutical company six years ago.

Some contributors made donations directly to organizations, rather than gifting via the Donald J. Trump Foundation, Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks wrote in an email. “It is all the result of Mr. Trump’s event,” she said.

Howard said the organization did not apply but received a recommendation from Baldasaro and was asked a few questions by the Trump campaign.

The $100,000 will be used to fund long-term goals, which could include buying a new building or expanding the mission, said Howard, who was in the Army and formerly homeless. The campaign hasn’t followed up since the February donation, Howard said.

Trump had claimed during the Iowa fundraiser that he’d raised $6 million through a combination of pledges from wealthy friends, the public and $1 million from himself. But his campaign refused for months to disclose which charities had received the money, leading some news organizations and critics to question whether the money raised was less than he had said.

“It was very unfair that the press treated us so badly,” Trump said. About a dozen local New York veterans protested outside the Trump Tower news conference Tuesday, holding signs such as “Vets vs. Hate.”

New England’s Wounded Veterans Inc. assists veterans across the region, and last year bought a new car and retrofitted a motorcycle for a staff sergeant who lives in New Hampshire, Biggio said.

“I am glad that (Trump) picked the charities he did choose because they are great organizations,” he said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story. Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307, or on Twitter @amorrisNH.)

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