President Trump’s inaugural team paid a company created by Melania Trump’s advisor a whopping $26 million, according to tax returns released Thursday.
Watchdog groups and journalists have been trying to track down what happened to millions left over from money raised for the January 2017 inauguration — money that fundraisers promised would go to charity. It’s been a mystery until now.
Inaugural committee chairman Thomas Barrack has said that the committee would donate leftover money to charity. The large payment to the first lady’s advisor’s firm represents about one-quarter of the total $107 million raised by the committee, which also included a $5 million donation to charity: a previously disclosed $3 million for hurricane relief, plus another $1.75 million for decorating the White House and the vice president’s residence.
Trump’s inaugural committee raised a record $107 for the inaugural festivities, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission last April. That’s nearly twice as much as former President Barack Obama’s $55 million for his first inauguration, even though Trump’s inauguration was considered a smaller event with less star power.
The 116-page filing shows that the majority of the money raised went to pay for expenses related to the inauguration. But one of the largest payments — $25,843,509 for “event production services” — appears to have gone to WIS Media Partners of Marina del Rey, Calif., a company created by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a close friend of the first lady.
The New York Times reported Thursday that a person familiar with the firm’s records show that the firm was created in December 2016, with little information available about it.
According to the Times, Winston Wolkoff is known for planning Manhattan society galas. The Washington Post reported last year that she was brought on as a senior adviser to the first lady’s office.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment but Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Melania Trump, told the Times that the first lady “had no involvement” with the inaugural committee, “and had no knowledge of how funds were spent.”
Grisham also told the Times that Winston Wolkoff has not been paid for her work in the first lady’s office.
Winston Wolkoff received $1.62 million for her work, one official from the inaugural committee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Times. The rest was “likely was passed through to other vendors who provided goods or services on a subcontractor basis,” according to the paper, including the team used by “The Apprentice” creator Mark Burnett, whose was in charge of the inaugural festivities.
The committee also paid Hargrove Inc., an event planning company based in Maryland, $25 million on “event production services.”
Another $4.6 million was allocated to salaries and other employee benefits. The committee also spent $9.4 million on travel, $560,000 on promotional gifts and $500,000 on legal fees.
The filings also show private contribution made to the committee, with several $1 million contributions.