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Saturday August 17th, 2019 10:55AM

2 firms paid $50 million by Trump inaugural committee

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's inauguration committee paid two private companies more than $50 million for event planning while donating $5 million to charitable causes after the January 2017 event in Washington, according to new federal tax documents filed by the nonprofit committee.

The filings for the Presidential Inaugural Committee show that the organization paid nearly $26 million to an obscure event planning firm based in Southern California. The company, WIS Media Partners, is described in the tax filings as an "event production" firm, but California state incorporation records do not list the firm's owner.

But The New York Times reported Thursday that the firm was started by Stephanie Winston-Wolkoff, a New York event planner who has been an adviser to first lady Melania Trump. Winston-Wolkoff, who is a longtime friend of the first lady's, was known to be involved in the inauguration's planning.

A person familiar with the committee's operations confirmed that the firm paid the near-$26 milllion fee was associated with Winston-Wolkoff. But much of that payment was defrayed to subcontractors working with Winston-Wolkoff, said the person, who asked to speak anonymously in order to discuss inner details of the committee's work. Winston-Wolkoff retained $1.62 million for her consulting work, the person said.

Winston-Wolkoff did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment left with a family member. WIS Media Partners' California registrar, Los Angeles lawyer Richard Garzilli, also did not immediately respond to a phone message.

The committee had raised nearly $107 million for the lavish event, an unprecedented inaugural price tag nearly twice that of President Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009. But some of those involved in or aware of the committee's work told the AP last September that the orchestration of the event was marred by last-minute decisions, staffing turnover and little financial oversight.

The person familiar with the committee said the large amounts that went to event planning covered some costs that were not paid for by earlier inauguration committees — including payments for broadcast rights and a $7 million stage.

Tom Barrack, the committee's chairman and a New York private equity investor who is a close friend of the president, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A second event planning firm, Hargrove Inc., based in Lanham, Md., was paid $25 million for its work producing the event. The same firm had been paid about $5 million for event production work in 2009 for Obama's inaugural committee. The firm's CEO, Tim McGill, was not immediately available for comment.

Two other New York-based event planners, David Monn and Production Resource Group Group Inc., received $3.7 million and $2.7 million for their work.

Brendan Fischer, an official with the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington group that focuses on election law and government ethics, questioned the Trump committee's expenses and said inaugural committees face little oversight or requirements to justify their expenses.

"There is a real risk of corruption and self-dealing when corporations, government contractors and other special interests can write massive checks that the inaugural committee can spend with minimal oversight or transparency," Fischer said.

The tax filings show that $3 million was donated to charitable organizations that aided victims of last year's hurricanes in Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida. Other donations went to Washington historical causes.

The inauguration committee reported a profit of $2.7 million after the charitable donations. The person familiar with the committee said that the profits were being held to defray any leftover debts, but would eventually be earmarked for charity donations.

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