News and analysis
January 12, 2017

Trump Cabinet’s Philanthropic Ties Detailed in New Online Resource

Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees have run, served as board members, or otherwise been affiliated with 25 different foundations, according to a new analysis by the Foundation Center.

The accounting of prospective top administration officials’ philanthropic ties, presented as a digital interactive, also shows that the incoming cabinet members have served on the boards of 50 nonprofit organizations that work in areas such as education, veterans’ affairs, and health. The Foundation Center named the project "Eye on the Trump Cabinet."

One notable philanthropist in the group, Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos, is a prolific donor via the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation and a recent board chair of the Philanthropy Roundtable, a Washington organization that represents donors and private foundations.

Another is Elaine Chao, the nominee for secretary of transportation, who previously led United Way Worldwide and serves as chairwomen of her parents’ foundation.

"Here are the facts, decide for yourself," Brad Smith, president of the Foundation Center, wrote in a post on the organization’s website introducing the data interactive. "That may sound like a radical proposition in what some — after a bitter election season dominated by spin, lies, and fake news — are calling a ‘post-truth world,’ but it is what we do at Foundation Center."

The center built a similar digital resource in 2012 to track the philanthropy of signers of the Giving Pledge, billionaires who have heeded the call by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates to commit at least half their wealth to charity.

Concerned Calls

Mr. Smith told The Chronicle Thursday that following the election, as President-elect Donald Trump began to name cabinet picks, the Foundation Center began to field calls from people in philanthropy concerned about what the leadership change would mean for their work. Some expressed doubts that the new president and his cabinet knew anything about foundations or nonprofits.

"We thought, well, this would be a really interesting opportunity to basically offer in as neutral and objective way as possible — which is what the Foundation Center does — information that people could use to sort of understand the relationship to philanthropy and nonprofits of the new administration," he said.

Mr. Smith acknowledged uncertainty about how the public will use the information. "What we hope it does is shed a little bit of light on the speculation of what this might mean for the sector," he said.

Mr. Trump has come under criticism for the number of extraordinarily wealthy people he has tapped to help run his administration.

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