Saturday, September 24, 2016

Charitable interpretation, continued

Update 9/25: Welcome Crooks, Liars, and Fans—thanks, Blogenfreude!

Image via Jacques Exclusive Caterers, which handled the Foundation's 2012 Summer Solstice Gala.
In the course of reading up on the activities of the Trump Foundation I came across a story that seems to have been told a lot but not enough, or we'd all know it: that of the Drumthwacket Foundation of New Jersey, a nonprofit devoted to maintaining Drumthwacket, the Greek-revival governor's residence in Princeton, ten or eleven miles from the State House in Trenton. The governor doesn't in fact live there (only one Jersey governor, the ill-fated Jim McGreevey, ever has done it full-time), but uses it as a venue for official events, on the order of 70 a year.

When Chris Christie took office in January 2010, Christina Wilkie wrote for the HuffPost in 2014, the character of the Drumthwacket Foundation began to change quite rapidly. The CEO of the Prudential insurance company and his wife, John and Mary Kay Strangfeld, volunteered to serve as chair and vice chair, and Mary Pat Christie, the governor's wife, assumed the presidency, a new position, and they announced a new vision to encourage the citizenry to take pride in the mansion and fundraising through a New Jersey Pride Corporate Campaign which octupled the foundation's annual income, from around $125 thousand to $1 million.

It doesn't have a Charity Navigator rating, and I can't find any specific information on what's been done for it with that million dollars a year other than making it accessible to persons with disabilities, which is certainly a good thing (but the first floor was already accessible when Jon Corzine moved in to recuperate there after his 2007 car accident left him temporarily wheelchair-bound, and he had a wheelchair lift installed so he could occupy the second floor).

But it has, as you might suspect, given lots of opportunities for wealthy people with business with the state of New Jersey to show what nice people they are, starting with Prudential itself, which has given more than $150,000 to the foundation and in November 2011 received a $250-million tax break ($527,000 per job created). Down to Jared Kushner's Uncle Murray, whose KRE Group made a $10,000 donation and got $33 million in tax incentives for their Journal Square project. And guess what, Jared Kushner's father-in-law, Donald J. Trump shows up as well!

He gave them $10,000 a year from 2010 through 2013, and got approval in 2013 to build a personal cemetery on the fairway of the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, ten graves, just for his immediate family, which turned out two years later to be another Trumpian lie; he plans to spend eternity in Florida and turn this site into a 548-grave site for club members. At a substantial profit, obviously.

I should say that, like the Clintons, Christie doesn't get any actual money out of this arrangement, and unlike the Clintons, he can't even get much prestige, since nobody could possibly care very much about whatever he's done for this admittedly very handsome Princeton building. And yet there's clearly something wrong with it that isn't wrong with the Clinton Foundation. Christie himself memorably lied about it as if it were embarrassing, falsely claiming that Trump had contributed to Hurricane Sandy relief on the first morning of the Republican National Convention, and then being forced in the afternoon to admit that it was Drumthwacket that had received the Trumpian largesse. And you can make a case with specific evidence of a pay-to-play phenomenon here (lots more examples in that HuffPost article) in a way that you can't for the Clinton Foundation at all.

What's it about with these things? People talk about donations to a presidential library, say, as contributing to a "legacy", and say that could be worth it to Bill Clinton or George W. Bush as a payment for political favors, and I can sort of understand how that could add up if it did (which in the Clinton case, as I've argued lots before, I think it doesn't). But the Drumthwacket Foundation? Really? What kind of pathetic quo for your quid is that?

Is it about being "high society" at all those gala events, the same thing that makes Christie long for a hug from Jerry Jones in the Cowboys skybox? Yearn so hard that he's willing to sell tax favors or a valuable lease from the Port Authority to get it? Or is it building general relationships with the great, without any particular plan, that might just pay off some day when Donald Trump has a job he could give you?

Photo by Jonathan Ernst, for Reuters, via Kos.

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