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'Forbes' Investigates President Trump's Finances

Oct 3, 2018
Originally published on October 3, 2018 8:39 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Donald Trump once predicted that he could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it. Well, he ran, and he won, but he doesn't seem to be making money. That's what Forbes magazine has found in an extensive piece of reporting on President Trump's finances. This comes just as The New York Times reports that much of the Trump fortune was the result of elaborate schemes to avoid taxes. Dan Alexander of Forbes has been reporting extensively on President Trump's finances, and he joins us from our studios in New York. Dan, thanks for being here.

DAN ALEXANDER: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Your story says Donald Trump's net worth - President Trump's net worth has dropped more than a billion dollars since he declared he was going to run in 2016. How did that happen?

ALEXANDER: Well, there are a couple of different factors there. You know, part of it's just business markets. Part of it's us doing better reporting, figuring out things like he was lying about the size of his penthouse for years, and now we know that it's smaller than he said. But the most interesting part is the effect that Trump the presidency is having on Trump the brand.

MARTIN: So this is a brand that is so intrinsically linked to him. I mean, he puts his name on everything from steaks to hotels to neckties. Can you point to which of those products - or buildings, for that matter - are suffering and why, specifically?

ALEXANDER: Well, the product business almost doesn't exist anymore. Businesses just don't want to take the risk of putting name on - his name on their products. And you know, he built a lot of things in New York, and New York is not a place that is very friendly to him these days, and New Yorkers don't want to live in his buildings. And golfers aren't spending as much money at his properties either. So you add all that up, and it leads to hundreds of millions of dollars in losses for the president.

MARTIN: Golfers don't want to go to his golf courses, even though he intentionally spends the bulk of his free time at his golf courses.

ALEXANDER: You know, it's interesting. Even if you look at the three courses that he attends the most - these are the places where, you know, as somebody's grabbing a burger on the turn, they can run into the president of the United States. Revenues are down even there. So it just seems like - you know, we talked with a lot of people who are around those courses, and they said it's kind of a hassle; you know, you've got metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs, and I'm just trying to go out and play golf.

MARTIN: So even if they don't mind the president's policies, it's just too much of a security inconvenience.

ALEXANDER: Yeah. That's not what you want when you're at a country club for the day.

MARTIN: Although you report that Mar-a-Lago, the president's resort in Florida, and the Trump Hotel here in Washington, D.C., are more valuable, right?

ALEXANDER: That's right. And if you think about those businesses, those are businesses that people - or places that people go to hobnob and to be with famous people. So you go into the Trump hotel in D.C., you know that you're going to run into people you may have seen on television, people who are in the Cabinet, you know, other people who are - like Trump's policies. If you go down to Mar-a-Lago, you know, that's - you're in Palm Beach, Fla. This is a place where it's been, you know, a sort of a charity hub where people like to, you know, hang out with fancy people. And what better place to do it?

MARTIN: So they like that access, and they'll pay a premium for it. Let me ask you - Eric Trump, the president's son, responded to your piece directly. He said your conclusion that the president is losing money while in this job underscores the personal sacrifice his father has made to be president. Do you think that's accurate?

ALEXANDER: Well, there are some sacrifices that he's made. For instance, they agreed not to expand into new deals overseas, and that does make a real difference, and that's part of the reason why his fortune is down. But if you look at the intentional things that he's doing to try to make money by showing up at his properties, as you mentioned, or by taking campaign money and putting it into his businesses, it's hard to believe it's all good intent there.

MARTIN: Your reporting about his drop in net worth happened to coincide with The New York Times' huge investigative piece about how Donald Trump got a lot of his wealth. According to the Times, his father funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to him in order to avoid taxes. Does that reflect what you have found too?

ALEXANDER: Yeah. It does ring a bell. You know, and 1982 was the first year that we put together the Forbes 400 list of the richest people in America. Donald Trump and his father were on it, each of them with a $200 million fortune.

MARTIN: OK.

ALEXANDER: The next year, they called us up and said, well, now it's actually all Donald's; it's $400 million to Donald. If you take that $200 million difference in 1983, adjust it for inflation up to today, that's about $500 million. The Times, looking at the actual documents, found that he had inherited 400-and-something million dollars from his father. So it does seem consistent with what we've seen over the years.

MARTIN: Dan Alexander with Forbes, thank you.

ALEXANDER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.