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Trump inaugural committee pays $26 million to firm founded by first lady's friend

A firm founded by a senior adviser to first lady Melania Trump was paid close to $26 million to plan events around Pr...

Posted: Feb. 16, 2018 6:47 AM
Updated: Feb. 16, 2018 6:47 AM

A firm founded by a senior adviser to first lady Melania Trump was paid close to $26 million to plan events around President Donald Trump's first inauguration, tax documents provided to CNN revealed Thursday.

The 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee, the nonprofit group that oversaw Trump's inauguration and was chaired by longtime Trump friend Tom Barrack, also donated $5 million to six charities, less than outside advocacy groups had expected the organization would donate.

The tax documents, which were first reported by The New York Times, indicate that nearly $51 million of the $107 million the inauguration committee raised went to two companies planning the festivities. WIS Media Partners, a company based in Marina Del Ray, California and founded by Melania Trump's longtime friend Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, received $25,843,509 for "event production services," according to the tax document.

After the inauguration, Wolkoff -- a longtime New York event planning fixture who cut her teeth by planning events for Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour -- was brought into the East Wing as a senior adviser to the first lady and is now serving as a special government employee. She currently lives in New York and occasionally travels to Washington.

Melania Trump "had no involvement" in planning the inauguration, her spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said Thursday, and had "no knowledge of how funds were spent."

"Stephanie Wolkoff is a special government employee with the Office of the First Lady," she added. "She volunteers her time and receives no salary for her efforts."

Wolkoff did not respond to CNN's request for comment.

The roughly $26 million the company received for their work on the inauguration was likely passed through to other vendors and event coordinators. The New York Times reported that Wolkoff personally received $1.62 million for her work.

An additional $25 million went to Hargrove Inc., an event planning company that has served as the official general contractor of every inauguration since former President Bill Clinton's inaugural in 1993.

David Monn, an event planner from New York, was paid $3,747,431. He was tasked with planning the "thank you" dinner for donors the night before the inauguration. And Cavalier Consulting, a company based in Austin, Texas, was paid $3,999,585 for ticketing, according to the tax documents.

In a statement released on Thursday, Barrack touted the work of the Presidential Inaugural Committee and said their work "represented the hallmark of American democracy in the unique and cherished American tradition of a peaceful transfer of power from the President to the President-Elect."

Barrack, a private equity investor and the CEO of Colony NorthStar, was lauded for his efforts around the inauguration, particularly the fact that the committee raised nearly $107 million to put on the festivities surrounding the event.

Barrack, according to the tax documents, was not paid for his work on the committee. And a source close to the financier said he "received no compensation or expense reimbursement for his work."

To date, the committee has donated $5 million to six charities, according to the tax documents.

Three million dollars went to the The American Red Cross Samaritan's Purse and The Salvation Army for their efforts to help after three devastating hurricanes -- $1 million for each -- rocked the southern United States and Puerto Rico last year.

Additionally, $250,000 went to the Smithsonian Institution, $1 million went to The White House Historical Association and $750,000 went to the Vice President's Residence Foundation, the tax documents said.

A release that accompanied the tax documents noted that the committee ended in October with nearly $2.8 million in the bank, money that the statement said would be donated to "charities of similar stature and quality as those named above."

Presidential inaugurations are costly affairs, with private funding and tax-payer money used to put on the events every four years.

Twenty-six donors gave at least $1 million to the committee, including a $5 million donation from Las Vegas casino magnate and prolific Republican donor Sheldon Adelson. Other top donors included Bob McNair of the Houston Texans, Shahid Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Dan Snyder of the Washington Redskins and Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots.

While corporations cannot give directly to candidates during presidential campaigns, they can give to the inaugural committee. Bank of America, Pfizer, Boeing, Dow Chemical and AT&T each gave $1 million to support Trump during the lead-up to the inauguration.

AT&T is seeking to take over Time Warner, CNN's parent company.

The taxpayer funded Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, along with federal, state and local governments, plan aspects of the actual swearing-in and surrounding events, while the privately funded committee plans and pays for entertainment and other events that happen around the inauguration.

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