How Rich Is Donald Trump? America Has Been Trying to Find Out for a Long Time

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate, real estate mogul and TV personality Donald Trump formally announces his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination during an event at Trump Tower in New York June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid - RTX1GR5BPhoto: © Brendan McDermid / Reuters

Donald Trump announced he is running for president today. He has spent years as a recreational user of highly addictive presidential speculation, but incorrectly reasoned that 2016 — which has already attracted more than 20 candidates — was the election year in which he had the best chance of winning.  

As FiveThirtyEight pointed out today, Trump starts his presidential bid as the most hated primary candidate in recorded history, which is quite impressive and worth bragging about given how competitive the race is in that category.

One thing Trump won’t be bragging about, according to him? The fact that he is oh-so ungodly rich. 

Trump, whose name recognition could actually win him a spot on the 2016 debate stage, spent a significant portion of his announcement speech at Trump Tower today discussing his financials, holding an official looking document midair while he stabbed oratory at the crowd. He announced that his net worth was nearly $9 billion, something that the Washington Post had reported the day before.  

Those familiar with the Donald Trump financial disclosure canon remained unconvinced and said they’d believe it when (or if) the Trump campaign filed more in-depth FEC financial disclosures in the upcoming months. The Washington Post noted in its report that "even the most aggressive auditors have found it challenging to assess Trump’s balance sheet, in part because his assets and liabilities are intricately complex, entwined with public subsidies and opaque private partnerships." In other words, the exact size of his wealth is as unprovable as Trump’s statement today that he "will be the greatest jobs president God ever created."

Recent history is littered with others accusing Trump’s financial statements of being as hyperbolic as his persona. 

Back in 2005, New York Times reporter Timothy O’Brien wrote a book that said Trump’s net worth was perhaps somewhere between $150 million and $250 million instead of a few billion, as Trump and the Forbes 400 reported. Today, Forbes reports Trump’s net worth at a still very large $4.1 billion — far less than his own self-compiled figure. Trump gave the Forbes 400 some side-eye in his book, Trump: Surviving at the Top:

It always amazed me that people pay so much attention to Forbes magazine. Every year the Forbes 400 comes out, and people talk about it as if it were a rigorously researched compilation of America’s wealthiest people, instead of what it really is: a sloppy, highly arbitrary estimate of certain people’s net worth.

Trump was even less impressed with O’Brien’s reporting. He sued the reporter for “egregiously false and malicious statements.” The lawsuit was later dismissed. During the deposition, Trump was asked if he ever exaggerated the value of his properties.  “I think everybody does,” he said. “Who wouldn’t?” He added“I’m no different from a politician running for office. You don’t want to say negative things.” The deposition also featured this exchange.

Trump: My net worth fluctuates, and it goes up and down with the markets and with attitudes and with feelings, even my own feelings, but I try.

Lawyer: Let me just understand that a little. You said your net worth goes up and down based upon your own feelings?

Trump: Yes, even my own feelings, as to where the world is, where the world is going, and that can change rapidly from day to day.

Philip Bump at the Fix talked to a financial expert about today’s number of nearly $9 billion. The expert concluded that the number may have been highly influenced by Trump’s feelings. “The first thing that pops, he’s just throwing a number out.” 

The Atlantic wrote about Trump’s self-calculus in 2013

His methods of valuing assets are more creative than precise, although Trump has his own internal logic for them. For instance, in 2005, he was paid $400,000 for a speech at the Learning Annex, but bragged on Larry King Live that his pay was actually more than $1 million because, as he explained in his deposition, the speech was promoted in billboard, newspaper, radio, and TV ads around New York City, creating extra value for his brand.

So when you say publicly you got paid more than $1 million, you’re including in that sum the promotional expenses they pay?,” Trump was asked during his deposition.

“Oh, absolutely, yes,” he replied. “That has a great value. It has a great value to me.”

Since then, Trump has devised a number of imprecise scales to quantify his wealth. He has been known to say, “My brand alone is worth $5 billion," to which Forbes responded, "Yes, the Donald is a billionaire. No, he’s not worth what he says he is." On the financial documentation Trump released today, his brand is valued at more than $3 billion. Bloomberg News visited Trump’s offices earlier this month, where he was again extolling the virtues of his brand. 

Ninety-nine million views,” he said, knocking over an employee’s computer monitor as he pointed to a YouTube video of rapper Mac Miller’s platinum-certified track, “Donald Trump,” playing on it. “Now that’s a brand.”

When Trump flirted with a presidential campaign before the 2012 race, he told Time magazine,

I look very much forward to showing my financials. Because they are huge. And I think that is a positive in terms of what I am doing. Far bigger than anyone knows. Far bigger than anyone would understand. And they are very impressive, very little debt, great amounts of cash, a great net worth… . Let me put it this way, The numbers will be far greater than any numbers you have ever heard about me. A pretty big statement to make. I am making that statement before the fact. 

In the end, he never got in the race and never had to file financial paperwork — but Politico reported that his net worth was around $7 billion. 

Trump has discussed his wealth in 2016 interviews. He told the Des Moines Register earlier this month, “I’m the most successful person ever to run for president. I mean, off the record, Ross Perot isn’t successful like me. Romney was — I have a Gucci store that’s worth more money than Romney.” (According to the Register, this statement is factually accurate.)

If Trump stays in the race and files paperwork with the FEC (which is no guarantee), the world might finally know whether Donald Trump’s estimation of his fortune exceeds Donald Trump’s fortune.