On a Tuesday afternoon 32 years ago, Donald J. Trump found his way to Steinberg-Dietrich Hall.
It was Oct. 23, 1984, and it was the first time the real-estate tycoon would speak at the University since graduating from the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce almost 14 years before. The lecture room overflowed, as 900 students crammed to hear Trump tell the story behind his booming empire.
He fielded questions afterwards and a student asked if he would share some of his fortune with his alma mater.
“I’ll match you dollar for dollar,” the billionaire joked. “Seriously, we’ve been contributing to Wharton and I always will.”
But, like his college years, Trump’s donations to Wharton — or Penn, for that matter — have remained a mystery. Rumors on campus and previous reporting have mostly concluded that the Republican presidential candidate never made significant donations to Penn, despite flaunting his Wharton degree throughout the election.
Yet, an exhaustive search by The Daily Pennsylvanian found that Trump may have cumulatively donated at least $1,480,500 to Penn, based on University reports, his foundation’s tax filings and other sources. Over the course of the last three decades or so, Trump has been identified on a number of University reports as a donor or pledged donor for specific amounts. However, these reports do not distinguish between donors and individuals who pledged to donate. Without this distinction, The Daily Pennsylvanian could not verify whether these donations were actually made, or were simply pledged and never followed through on.
Donations or pledges according to Penn annual reports
Trump’s most significant donation may have gone toward Wharton’s Campaign for Sustained Leadership, which helped fund the construction of Huntsman Hall. A 2003 Wharton Report to Investors lists “all gifts” made to the campaign between 1996 and 2003. Trump appears on a list called the “The President’s Circle”: a select group of individuals who made “gifts of $1,000,000 to $4,999,999.”
University annual giving reports don’t disclose contribution amounts — instead, benefactors are listed according to the dollar range of their donation or pledged donation. If he followed through on his pledge, Trump could have donated a minimum of $1 million or close to $5 million over those years.
The University refused to disclose Trump’s donations, saying donor information is private. Trump himself did not return the DP’s numerous requests for comment.
The DP searched through 32 annual giving reports issued by both Penn and Wharton between 1968 and 2007. Most of these reports are kept in the University Archives and Records Center, and Van Pelt Library. However, a significant amount of reports are missing, making it difficult to trace Trump’s exact history of donating or pledging donations to Penn.
Trump’s name shows up five times between 1996 and 2001 in University-wide giving reports as having donated or pledged a minimum of $25,000 each of those years in unrestricted gifts — gifts to be used entirely at Penn’s discretion. These gifts are in addition to his donation to the Wharton Campaign for Sustained Leadership.
The most recent times Trump shows up is in the reports for 2006 and 2007, when he may have donated or pledged between $100,000 and $499,999 to Wharton each year.
A sum of the minimum amounts Trump may have pledged or donated to Penn shows the Wharton graduate may have donated $1,350,000, solely based on Penn’s annual giving reports.
At least one expert familiar with Trump’s history of charitable giving was skeptical about Trump’s pledges or donations to Penn.
“It would be closest to or perhaps the biggest one gift of his life if he followed through with his pledge to Penn,” said The Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold, who spent months investigating Trump’s donations to charity.
Through his reporting, Fahrenthold identified $7.8 million in charitable giving from Trump’s personal wealth since the the 1980s. He also found numerous occasions when Trump would pledge a donation, but not follow through with it.
“The other two times he gave $1 million dollar gifts he made sure everyone knew it,” he said, noting a donation Trump made to a Manhattan Vietnam Veterans’ memorial in 1983 and a televised fundraiser for veterans in January of this year.
Yet, John H. Zeller, vice president for development and alumni relations, told the DP in an emailed statement that Penn “has an exceptionally high rate of fulfillment” for pledged gifts.
“A commitment(pledge) to annual giving is paid within the fiscal year it is made,” wrote Zeller, refusing to comment specifically on Trump’s donations.
There is also the possibility that Trump donated anonymously to Penn and chose not to be listed on annual giving reports.
But, Mark Frazier Lloyd, director of the University Archives and Records Center, said he thinks Trump didn’t make anonymous donations to Penn.
“He loves to promote whatever he does,” Lloyd said. “If he would have made a major gift here he would insist that it go public.”
Donation to the Penn Club of New York
This string of donations Trump may have made in the late nineties roughly coincides with his children’s enrollment at Penn. Donald J. Trump Jr. began classes at Penn in 1996 and Ivanka Trump in 2000.
The donations also coincide with a gift Trump made to fund a project closer to home.
In 1996, the Wharton graduate donated over $100,000 to the Penn Club of New York, according to a Jan. 28, 1997 DP article. The Penn Club — founded in 1994 — is a private clubhouse in Midtown Manhattan for the use of Penn students, alumni and faculty with membership.
The gift is described as Trump’s “first major donation” in the article, but then-Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Virginia Clark did not specify the exact amount of the donation. The DP reached out to Clark, now Assistant Secretary of Advancement at the Smithsonian, last week, but she did not return requests for comment.
However, a Penn Club administrative assistant, who refused to be named, confirmed Trump is listed as a “founder” of the Penn Club. The minimum gift to be considered a “founder” was $150,000, according to The Washington Post’s book “Trump Revealed.”
Donald J. Trump Foundation
Records show Trump also donated small sums to Penn through his personal foundation, the Donald J. Trump Foundation.
Three decades worth of the foundation’s IRS tax filings obtained by the DP revealed the charity has donated a total of $5,500 to Penn and Penn-affiliated groups since the foundation was established in 1987.
The first donation was a $3,000 gift to the “Wharton Business School Club” in 1988, followed by $2,500 to “The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania” in 1989.
The tax filings also show Trump repeatedly gave thousands of dollars to New York University, Columbia University, Fordham University and other educational institutions.
Class of 1968 Gifts
Trump’s name is not a ubiquitous fixture at Penn as it is on skyscrapers and hotels across the country. Numerous Penn buildings and programs are named after well known benefactors like Ronald Perelman, David Pottruck and Walter Annenberg.
One of Penn’s most well known gifts was 1959 Wharton graduate Jon M. Huntsman’s $40 million unrestricted gift to Wharton, which led Penn to name the business school’s academic building in honor of the benefactor.
But Trump’s name can be spotted on a plaque in the Class of 1968 Seminar Room in Van Pelt Library, which his graduating class donated in 2003. The plaque names Trump and other lead donors of the project, but it is unclear what his minimum donation to the room was.
1968 Wharton graduate Douglas Cox has been his class’s gift chair for 45 years, but could not recall the minimum donation to get a class member’s name on the plaque.
“We usually contact people who are willing to give $1,000 or $25,000,” Cox said of class gifts organized every five years. “They’re major gifts, but not huge gifts.”
Cox refused to comment on Trump’s involvement in class donations over the years.
Even beyond his classmates, those who have been at Penn the longest also see Trump’s relationship with the University as an enigma.
“Ever since I came [to Penn], the word on the street has been that [Trump’s] donations have not been significant,” said archivist Lloyd, who has worked at Penn for 32 years. “What does the word significant mean? I don’t know ... ”