WASHINGTON -- A strange thing happened at Donald Trump's rally on Thursday night at Drake University in Iowa. Halfway through his stump speech, Trump stopped talking about Iran and China and winning, and began instead telling the audience about some of the rich friends of his who'd agreed that day to contribute money to his private charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation.
Trump said the money would be donated to veterans' support groups, but as of Friday afternoon, those groups had yet to be identified.
The event's real purpose was obvious -- it was a political rally poorly disguised as a fundraiser for military vets. Real fundraising events cost money to attend; this one was free. And real fundraising events let people know where and how to donate money. Somehow, Trump failed to mention this on Thursday.
Instead, Trump did what he's always done when he needs to fund the Donald J. Trump Foundation: He called up a small group of people who do business with him, or who owe him favors, and asked them to pony up.
Carl Icahn, the billionaire investor who rescued the Trump Taj Mahal from bankruptcy in 2014, gave $500,000 after "one quick phone call" with Trump. Icahn has endorsed Trump for president, and Trump has floated the idea of nominating the investor as secretary of the Treasury.
Las Vegas developer Phil Ruffin, who donated $1 million, is also in business with Trump. The two men are partners in the Trump Hotel Las Vegas, which they developed together. Ruffin is married to a former Miss Ukraine, whom he met through Trump at a Miss Universe pageant. Trump later served as best man at Ruffin's 2008 wedding.
Howard Lorber is a fellow Manhattan real estate developer and golf buddy of Trump's who has appeared as a guest on Trump's former reality show, "The Apprentice." Trump also hired Lorber's son Michael for a summer internship. On Thursday, Trump called Lorber "a great friend of our family" who gave $100,000 to the Trump Foundation.
Richard LeFrak, another billionaire real estate developer, is the only person whose dogs (two poodles) are allowed on the grounds of Trump's Mar-A-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. LeFrak and Trump have been friends and golf buddies for years, so when Trump called, LeFrak donated $100,000.
Another donor was Nine West founder Jerome Fisher, who's been a guest of Trump's at Mar-A-Lago before. Fisher made headlines in 2008 when he got into an altercation at Trump's house with another guest, Robert Jaffe, a one-time recruiter for the infamous con man Bernie Madoff. Fisher was one of the scores of millionaires with Florida ties who were victims of Madoff's Ponzi scheme.
Mall developer J.J. Cafaro, who socializes with Trump in Palm Beach, gave Trump's foundation $50,000, prompting Trump to describe Cafaro as "a fantastic man."
What Trump didn't mention is that Cafaro has pleaded guilty two different times in federal court to charges related to illegal political campaign donations. In 2002, Cafaro pleaded guilty to attempting to bribe then-Rep. Jim Traficant (D-Ohio), part of a deal Cafaro made to avoid jail time. Six years later, he again pleaded guilty to a campaign-related offense -- this time, failing to disclose a $10,000 loan he'd made to his daughter's failed bid for a seat in Congress.
Ike Perlmutter, whom Trump described as an "unbelievable man from Marvel -- one of the great, great men in our country in terms of business and talent," also gave $1 million. It was generous gift, to be sure, but not nearly as generous as Perlmutter and his wife have been to the super PAC backing Trump's rival, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R). Last fall, Rubio's super PAC collected $2 million from the Perlmutters.
Not surprisingly, Trump managed to save some lavish praise for himself: "Donald Trump, another great builder in New York... gave $1 million, OK?" he told the crowd, before pausing for applause. If Trump follows through on the gift, it will mark the first time in eight years that Trump has donated to the Donald J. Trump Foundation.
It remains to be seen, however, whether the pledges from Trump's friends will actually be paid -- and if so, how. Trump, for one, has a well-documented habit of donating things to charity that don't actually cost him any money, like "Lunch with Donald Trump" and golf trips to the resorts he owns. Nonprofits then auction off what Trump himself has donated, and are sometimes even expected to share the auction proceeds with Trump's foundation.
As of midday Friday, Trump had also collected over $620,000 for the Donald J. Trump Foundation from a website he launched the day before. The site promises that "100% of your donations will go directly to Veterans [sic] needs," but doesn't offer any more details.
Once the money is donated to Trump's foundation, donors can expect to have little say in what happens to it. Trump runs the foundation with a skeleton crew of family members and no staff, and he makes all the decisions about donations himself.
Historically, veterans' charities have not been high on Trump's list of causes to support. According to Forbes, groups that help service members have received less than 5 percent of Trump's total charitable donations since 2009, with nearly half of that $57,000 coming from his one gift to Fisher House.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified one of the donors to Trump's charity. It was Jerome Fisher, not Kenneth Fisher. The two men are not related.