Trump's sons behind Texas nonprofit selling access to president-elect
A new Texas nonprofit led by President-elect Donald Trump’s grown sons is offering access to Trump in exchange for million-dollar donations to unnamed “conservation” charities, according to interviews and documents reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity.
Editor's note: Update including response from Donald Trump's transition team appended
A new Texas nonprofit led by Donald Trump’s grown sons is offering access to the freshly-minted president during inauguration weekend — all in exchange for million-dollar donations to unnamed “conservation” charities, according to interviews and documents reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity.
And the donors’ identities may never be known.
Prospective million-dollar donors to the “Opening Day 2017” event — slated for Jan. 21, the day after inauguration, at Washington, D.C.’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center — receive a “private reception and photo opportunity for 16 guests with President Donald J. Trump,” a “multi-day hunting and/or fishing excursion for 4 guests with Donald Trump, Jr. and/or Eric Trump, and team,” as well as tickets to other events and “autographed guitars by an Opening Day 2017 performer.”
Website TMZ.com first published a brochure hyping the happening. The brochure says that “all net proceeds from the Opening Day event will be donated to conservation charities,” but it does not name the charities or detail how net proceeds will be calculated.
Who’s behind the get-together?
Walter Kinzie, chief executive officer of Texas event management company Encore Live, confirmed to the Center for Public Integrity that a nonprofit group called the Opening Day Foundation hired his firm to manage Opening Day 2017.
A Center for Public Integrity review of Texas incorporation records found the Opening Day Foundation was created less than a week ago, on Dec. 14. Unlike political committees, such nonprofits aren’t required by law to reveal their donors, allowing sponsors to write seven-figure checks for access to the president while staying anonymous, if they choose.
The paperwork for the Opening Day Foundation listed four directors: Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Dallas investor Gentry Beach and Tom Hicks Jr., the son of a Dallas billionaire.
Beach and Hicks are reportedly close friends with Donald Trump Jr., and both men helped raise millions of dollars for Trump’s campaign.
“The event is being put on by the Opening Day Foundation,” Kinzie confirmed, adding: “There are a number of different individuals who are part of the foundation.”
Kinzie also said the information in the brochure posted by TMZ.com was not entirely accurate — he did not specify what was incorrect — and he added that the participation of Trump family members is not confirmed.
The Trump Organization, a spokeswoman for President-elect Trump and the presidential transition team did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Hicks and Beach also did not immediately respond to phone messages requesting comment.
The brochure for “Opening Day 2017,” an event described as “honoring President Donald J. Trump,” offers sponsor packages ranging from $25,000 to $1 million. The event will “celebrate the great American tradition of outdoor sporting, shooting, fishing and conservation,” the brochure states.
Mike Ingram, an Arizona developer who is listed as one of the co-chairmen, said Beach approached him to help.
"I’m honored to do it," he said. "It’s not going to be a black tie event. It’s going to be boots and jeans and camouflage and it’s going to raise a lot of money to go to sportsman’s charities" and conservation charities, he said.
Ingram said he could not confirm the Trump family's participation.
“This is problematic on so many levels,” said Larry Noble, the general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan campaign reform organization. “This is Donald Trump and the Trump family using a brand new organization to raise $1 million contributions for a vague goal of giving money to conservation charities, which seems a way of basically just selling influence and selling the ability to meet with the president.”
Noble cautioned that the details of the event and its association with the new nonprofit listing the Trump brothers as directors are still unclear.
“It’s really hard to identify all the problems when they’re so vague,” he said.
The Trump family has recently endured criticism for appearing to sell access to Trump’s adult children, who serve on the executive committee of Trump’s presidential transition team and have functioned as key advisers since he began his campaign.
The family canceled an auction for coffee with Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump last week after ethics experts said it was ethically questionable, according to the New York Times. The proceeds of the auction would have gone to the Eric Trump Foundation, an existing nonprofit whose mission is to support a children’s hospital.
Update, 4:18 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 20: Trump's transition team emailed a statement from spokeswoman Hope Hicks. It reads: "The Opening Day event and details that have been reported are merely initial concepts that have not been approved or pursued by the Trump family. Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are avid outdoorsmen and supporters of conservation efforts, which align with the goals of this event, however they are not involved in any capacity."
A Trump transition official told the Center for Public Integrity that the registration document for the Opening Day Foundation, the nonprofit behind the Opening Day 2017 event, "will be amended" and that the names of Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump will be removed.
The statement and transition official did not address Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump serving as directors of the Opening Day Foundation. Nor did it explain how the Trump brothers came to be listed on the event's brochure, which organizers circulated among conservative political donors in recent days.
Beach is listed in the Opening Day Foundation's signed registration document as the group's registered agent. Texas nonprofit registration forms state that including "materially false" information is subject to "penalties imposed by law."
Houston-based lawyer Thomas M. Gregor signed Opening Day Foundation's registration document under penalty of perjury. Gregor could not immediately be reached for comment.
This story is republished with permission from the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative media organization in Washington.
Information about the authors
Quality journalism doesn't come free
Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn't cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue across the country are declining, The Texas Tribune remains committed to sustaining our mission: creating a more engaged and informed Texas with every story we cover, every event we convene and every newsletter we send. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on members to help keep our stories free and our events open to the public. Do you value our journalism? Show us with your support.Yes, I'll donate today