Charlottesville backlash? Mar-a-Lago a no-go as Trump club loses ninth big charity event in a week
Cancellations all followed the president’s remarks on the march of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia
A Palm Beach, Florida, charity cancelled plans to hold a gala at US President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club – the ninth to cancel a big-ticket charity event at the club in the past week.
The Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach, a charity focused on the ritzy island’s architectural landmarks, had planned to hold a dinner dance at Mar-a-Lago next March. The foundation was a new customer for Trump’s club, and a potentially lucrative one: it spent US$244,000 on rent and food on a previous gala at another site, according to tax filings.
But on Saturday, the foundation said it would find another venue.
“Given the current environment surrounding Mar-a-Lago, we have made the decision to move our annual dinner dance,” Amanda Skier, the foundation’s executive director, said in a written statement. She did not say which new venue the foundation would use.
That decision meant that Trump’s club had lost nine of the 16 galas or dinner events that it had been scheduled to host during next winter’s social “season” in Palm Beach. At least two other groups also cancelled charity luncheons there last week.
Those losses could reduce the club’s revenue by hundreds of thousands of dollars by each event, and deny President Trump his dual role as president and host to the island’s partying elite. If he returns to the club for weekends next winter, the president could often find its grand ballrooms quiet and empty.
These cancellations all followed the president’s remarks on the march of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which the president said the protesters, who gathered under the pretence of wanting to preserve a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, included some “fine people”.
On Friday, the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross and Susan G. Komen joined the growing exodus of organisations cancelling plans to hold fundraising events at the club.
Susan G. Komen, the nation’s largest breast cancer fundraising group, said it would seek another venue after hosting its “Perfect Pink Party” gala at Mar-a-Lago every year since 2011.
The Salvation Army, which has held a gala at the club every year since 2014, said in a statement that it would not hold its event there “because the conversation has shifted away” from its mission of helping those in need.
And the American Red Cross said it would cancel its annual fundraiser at the club because “it has increasingly become a source of controversy and pain for many of our volunteers, employees and supporters,” the charity said in a statement.
In a letter to staff on Friday, chief executive Gail McGovern said: “The Red Cross provides assistance without discrimination to all people in need – regardless of nationality, race, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or political opinions – and we must be clear and unequivocal in our defence of that principle.”
Trump’s club earned between US$100,000 and US$275,000 each from similar-sized events in the past.
But the cancellations also reveal a widening vulnerability for Trump, who, unlike past presidents, refused to divest from his business interests when he joined the White House.
The Trump Organisation has not responded to requests for comment.
The charitable groups join three other large event cancellations from Thursday: the Cleveland Clinic, the American Friends of Magen David Adom and the American Cancer Society, which cited its “values and commitment to diversity” in its decision to abandon the club.
Some of the club’s most notable local boosters, with long fundraising histories and deep Palm Beach roots, were also in outright rebellion Friday against the club. Lois Pope, a Mar-a-Lago member and philanthropist who heads the Lois Pope Life Foundation and Leaders In Furthering Education, said she had told her foundation’s board to move its well-known December gala from the club.
“The hatred, vitriol and anti-Semitic and racist views being spewed by neo-Nazis and White Supremacists are repugnant and repulsive,” Pope wrote in a statement. “And anyone who would demonstrate even a modicum of support for them by insisting that there are ‘good people’ among them is not deserving of my personal patronage or that of my foundations.”
One of the cancellations cut close to home for the Trumps. Big Dog Ranch Rescue said on Friday it would no longer hold an upcoming event at the club and would instead move it to the group’s facility nearby. Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, was scheduled to co-chair the event.
The Autism Project of Palm Beach County also said Friday that it is not planning on hosting an event at the club, President Richard Busto told the Post on Friday. The local group has held “Renaissance Dinner” galas at Mar-a-Lago every year since at least 2008.
The Ryan Licht Sang Bipolar Foundation on Friday also announced it had canceled its annual medical briefing luncheon at the club and will move it to another venue.
“We stand with the community,” the foundation’s co-founder, Dusty Sang, told the Post on Friday. “I think people are standing up for what they believe.”
Another group, the Unicorn Children’s Foundation, said it is “currently exploring other options” for a previously planned luncheon at Mar-a-Lago and would make its final decision next month.
The groups’ cancellations follow rebukes from business executives this week, who heavily criticised Trump’s comments that white supremacists and counterprotesters equally shared the blame for a deadly weekend in Charlottesville.