Since he left office, Donald Trump has been aggressively pursuing various money-making schemes, from selling his supporters Official Trump Cards that don’t actually do anything to inundating them with “URGENT!” pleas to contribute to Save America PAC and similar entities every time they visit his website. This effort has clearly been successful; at the end of July, Save America PAC had $99 million on hand.
Why exactly Trump needs his supporters to “contribute ANY AMOUNT IMMEDIATELY” has always been less clear. Trump hasn’t been sharing the wealth with the many candidates he’s endorsed, and Bloomberg has noted only $5,000 of that money can be used for his own reelection effort. If you spend too much time investigating this question on the DonaldTrump.com donation page, this dire warning pops up:
Insider perused Save America PAC’s latest financial disclosure, and it turns out a large chunk of the $4 million spent in July went to typical Trumpian expenses like transportation, payroll for at least 44 staffers, and massive legal fees. But there was one surprise: a $650,000 charitable donation to the Smithsonian.
Upon further investigation, Trump hadn’t just developed a new appreciation for the arts. A Smithsonian official confirmed to Insider that the money will go toward portraits of Donald and Melania Trump for the National Portrait Gallery:
The contribution, which Trump’s Save America PAC disclosed without explanation in a Federal Election Commission filing Saturday, will “support the artists’ fees, shipping, framing, installation, and events,” Linda St. Thomas, a Smithsonian spokesperson, said.
“Two artists have been commissioned, one for each portrait. The names will be released closer to the reveal of the paintings,” St. Thomas said. “The creation of the portraits is underway. The timing of the artworks’ reveal not determined yet.” … St. Thomas noted that “all portraits of presidents at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery are paid for with private funds raised by the museum.”
This is accurate, but as the Washington Post notes, this is the first time a political organization has funded presidential portraits. Usually the money comes from wealthy donors who know they’re giving the funds to put a painting in the National Portrait gallery:
In the past, those portraits have been funded by private donations, usually from the supporters of the outgoing administration. More than 300 donors — including Steven Spielberg, John Legend and Chrissy Teigen — contributed to the $750,000 commission fees for the Obama portraits, which were painted by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, according to the Smithsonian. Donor lists for the Obamas’ and Bushes’ portraits did not include any political action committees.
A June 2022 analysis by the Post found that nearly two-thirds of the donations to Save America and similar Trump PACs came from retirees, of which “more than 6 in 10 were contributions of $100 or less.”
Did these elderly, small-dollar donors know they were saving America from Joe Biden by paying an artist hundreds of thousands of dollars to paint Donald and Melania? Probably not. I bet most of them are fine with it, but if I’d donated to Save America PAC, I’d be annoyed. I think the Smithsonian could offer the public a more accurate (and cheaper!) picture of the former president by displaying the six-foot tall $20,000 Trump portrait he bought with his own charity’s money in 2007.
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