The annual fundraising bashes that Donald Trump hosted at his Mar-a-Lago Club for the renowned Dana-Farber Cancer Institute were showy affairs, complete with poolside champagne, flamenco dancers, and Tiffany party favors.
And his titles from Dana-Farber kept getting loftier: First, he was a Discovery Celebration Chair. Then a Grand Benefactor. Then a Grand Honorary Chair.
Those titles did not come at a cost to Trump because he himself has not donated to the cancer center in years. His foundation, which has not included any of his own money since 2008, has given the hospital $350,000 since 2010.
Yet Trump himself may have profited from the relationship: The hospital has paid Trump’s private club up to $150,000 a year since 2011, and once before in 2008, to host the fundraising gala.
The relationship between Trump and Dana-Farber opens a window into the world of high-dollar philanthropy, where galas with celebrity guests attract wealthy donors who hop from party to party on the social circuit. Many hospitals make a point of hosting events in Palm Beach, where many wealthy spend the winter; the Cleveland Clinic’s Florida arm hosted a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago this year and will be back in 2017, according to its website.
And the snowbirds give — last year, Dana-Farber raised about $1.6 million from the Mar-a-Lago event, a small percentage of the $204 million it raised in total last fiscal year.
The hospital says its relationship with Trump is purely business: “Using or not using Mar-a-Lago is not a statement on the presidential election,” said Susan Paresky, Dana-Farber’s senior vice president for development.
But Trump’s foundation has drawn heightened scrutiny, and not everyone associated with Dana-Farber sees such a clear distinction between business and politics.
“Oh Jesus,” said Dr. David Nathan, who served as president of Dana-Farber from 1995 to 2000 and now sits on the board of trustees. He burst into laughter when told by STAT about the relationship between the hospital and Trump. “My first comment is no comment.”
But he continued to comment. “Poor Dana-Farber probably made a mistake getting involved with him,” he said. “But how were they supposed to know what was going to happen?”
The relationship isn’t well-known at the hospital, Nathan said. “I’m there every day,” he said. “I never knew we’re getting money from Donald Trump. And I don’t think anybody in the place really knows that.”
However, he said he didn’t think Dana-Farber should be criticized. “You’ve got to take money where it comes, and as long as it’s not illicit money, I think that’s fair game,” Nathan said.
Dana-Farber’s galas at Mar-a-Lago were lavish affairs, as described in hospital newsletters. In 2011, “a speciality dessert parade” was followed by a Jennifer Hudson concert. The next year, “the event began with poolside champagne and caviar.”
Donald and Melania Trump “welcomed guests to their exclusive venue,’’ a Dana-Farber newsletter said about one of the events. The newsletter included a note from Paresky commending the Trumps’ “leadership.’’
When asked the nature of that leadership, Paresky said that “the Trumps agreed to lend their name to the event.”
The hospital’s fundraising staff and a volunteer committee do the actual hands-on planning for such parties, she said.
Some who have attended the fundraisers said they believe Trump’s presence is good for Dana-Farber.
“I think that his being associated with it is a plus,” said Sandra Bornstein, a Palm Beach resident who attends the fundraiser regularly. He’s “extremely friendly and nice to be around,” she said.
Sandra and her husband, Richard Bornstein, give about $5,000 each year at the Dana-Farber fundraiser. They are Trump supporters, and Richard Bornstein said he has contributed to Trump’s campaign.
A Dana-Farber doctor who presented research at a 2012 Mar-a-Lago dinner said that there isn’t much of a relationship at all between the Republican presidential candidate and the hospital.
“I don’t think there’s a significant there there,” said Dr. George Demetri, senior vice president for experimental therapeutics at Dana-Farber. He saw Trump at some of the Mar-a-Lago events and not at others. Once, he got a photo with the celebrity.
Demetri’s main impression: “He’s very tall.”
The Trump Organization did not respond to specific questions from STAT. The accounting firm listed on the Trump Foundation’s tax forms also did not respond to a request for comment. A Trump campaign spokesperson did not answer specific questions about the Dana-Farber donations but said the Trump Foundation “is proud to make the contributions to such a reputable and worthy organization.”
Dana-Farber stands out as receiving a large percentage of the Trump Foundation’s money. The foundation gave $200,000 to the hospital in 2012, which made up about 12 percent of its charitable contributions that year.
The foundation donated another $100,000 to Dana-Farber in 2013 and then gave $25,000 in each of the next two years.
Dana-Farber recognized the foundation’s generosity by naming Trump an “Honorary Chair” of the fundraiser and also a “Grand Benefactor” in 2013.
In 2014, Trump’s title morphed to “Grand Honorary Chair.”
Each year, Trump himself contributed $0.
Such honors have been examined closely since a series of stories in the Washington Post found Trump himself has not given any money to his foundation since 2008, but is still getting credit for some donations that the foundation makes.
“It is customary to thank and recognize a person most associated with a foundation for that foundation’s support,” Paresky said.
Each year that the fundraising gala was held at Mar-a-Lago, Dana-Farber paid about $250 per attendee to Trump’s private company for hosting the event. Between 320 and 600 attended per year, a hospital spokesperson said. That comes out to between $80,000 and $150,000 income for the Trump company each year. (Spokespeople for Dana-Farber and Trump declined to provide the exact amount paid.)
Trump’s new high profile doesn’t appear to have changed the relationship.
A Dana-Farber spokesperson said that an agreement has been signed for the hospital to host its 2017 gala at Mar-a-Lago.
Dylan Scott contributed reporting.