One hallmark of President-elect Donald Trump’s behavior is a tension between brazen exhibitionism and near-total opacity. Trump is highly outspoken, especially on Twitter, and has been in the public eye for decades; his supporters and surrogates frequently maintain that these make him transparent. However, when it comes to any information that could help hold Trump accountable, such as the details of his policy positions, he has not been forthcoming, a tendency which poses an enormous threat to a system of governance built on the idea of checks and balances.
Among the most notable manifestations of this opacity is that, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump broke decades of tradition by refusing to release his tax returns. Although he initially said he would release them, as the campaign wore on, he and his staff began proffering a number of explanations for why he didn’t. Though none of those excuses held up under scrutiny, Trump still hasn’t released the returns, which means that, though he is vastly wealthier than any of his predecessors, the American public knows significantly less about his finances than it has about any president’s since Richard Nixon. Given that Trump is entering the presidency with a business empire of unprecedented scale—and potential conflicts of interest of unprecedented complexity—the dearth of information significantly restricts the public’s understanding of how his financial entanglements may influence his decision-making in office.
What are available, however, are the financial-disclosure forms that Trump was required to file during the campaign with the Federal Election Commission. The paperwork, which he submitted in July 2015 and May 2016, offers the best window we have into his finances. Given their length—his 2015 disclosure takes up 92 pages, while the 2016 version is 104 pages—their format makes them borderline unreadable; as submitted, the text is not searchable, and can’t be easily copied in most browsers. A new effort by BuzzFeed—“Help Us Map TrumpWorld”—includes some, but not all, of the data.
In the interest of increasing the accessibility of these important documents, which remain the only public records of the president-elect’s finances, we have converted these disclosures into a Google spreadsheet, making them more readily accessible.
The data for the spreadsheet can be found here.
Like the disclosure forms themselves, the spreadsheet is divided into several sections, each of which provides potentially useful information about the president-elect’s business endeavors. The first sheet lists every position that Trump held at the time of filing, or had held as recently as 2013, outside of the presidency. The second lists some 188 assets, from endeavors in everything from real estate to beauty pageants to books, and the income Trump derives from each. The next three note his apparently ongoing agreement with the Screen Actors Guild, his sources of compensation exceeding $5,000 per year (none), and his wife Melania’s ongoing licensing deals. The paperwork lists his other assets, including stocks, bonds, and investments in mutual and hedge funds, and the income they provided for each year that he filed, which is where the Indianapolis Star learned that Trump held stock in the air-conditioner manufacturer Carrier’s parent corporation, The Carlyle Group, raising questions about his intervention at Carrier’s plant in Indianapolis. Next comes the listing of several of the financial institutions with which the president-elect has outstanding debt, such as Deutsche Bank, to which the Trump Organization owes billions of dollars. Finally, the last sheet discloses the ownership structures of some 532 companies and corporations with which Trump is involved.
Whether these sheets reflect the current state of Trump’s finances is unknown. He has stated—without proof—that he has sold off his stocks in preparation to enter office; at a press conference on January 11, he and one of his lawyers, Sheri Dillon, claimed that he would be stepping down from many of the positions he held at various companies, providing no verification beyond a table stacked with folders that they claimed contained the legal documentation of the arrangements. Nobody in the press has had access to these documents, and Trump will not have to file again until 2018, meaning that the information could remain unverified for at least another year. Moreover, there are some differences between the 2015 and 2016 disclosure forms, mainly reflecting changes in Trump’s finances, such as stocks he had sold off or purchased, companies with which he became no longer involved, debt that has matured; in our spreadsheet, any information that was only present in 2015 is highlighted in yellow, while anything only listed in 2016 is highlighted in green. As of now, however, these FEC filings reflect the best available information on Trump’s financial situation, information which may become increasingly relevant as descriptions of his conflicts of interest and suggestions of how they may be impacting his behavior pile up.
Of course, the FEC filings have significant limitations. Much of the information in them is so general that it is nearly impossible to estimate Trump’s wealth, income, or debts with any precision. The forms indicate not precise values but bands that are at times so broad as to be almost unreadable, especially at the higher end of the scale. Trump declared over $5,000,000 in income from Trump Tower in each 2015 and 2016; just how much it exceeded that is anyone’s guess. The liabilities page for 2016 lists at least $350 million in loans, although, given that five are reported as “over $50,000,000”—all incurred since 2012—the actual extent of his debts remains an open question.
Making Trump’s finances even more inscrutable is the fact that many of the companies he owns, fully or partially, are limited-liability companies, or LLCs, some of which are not legally obligated to disclose any of their financial records or even their owners. By our count, 126 of the 188 assets listed under “Filer’s Employment Assets and Income” and 259 of the 532 listed on the attached schedule disclosing their ownership structure are LLCs. Moreover, much of Trump’s debt has undergone securitization—that is, it has been bought up, sliced up, and redistributed by financial firms—which further obscure his financial situation. Though the complexity of these arrangements makes it almost impossible to fully understand Trump’s overall financial circumstances, the information available is enough to ascertain that the loans listed on his forms are only a fraction of his overall debt: Though he has disclosed $350 million in loans from 10 companies, The Wall Street Journal determined that, between his many LLCs and his securitized debts, Trump has at least $1 billion in debt distributed among more than 150 separate financial institutions.
Finally, many of the questions that surround Trump’s finances could only be answered by the release of his tax returns. For example, as much information as there is in the FEC filings, they give no clue to Trump’s actual net worth, his annual income, or how much he pays in taxes each year. Meanwhile, only three pages of the president-elect’s 1995 returns obtained by The New York Times were enough to establish not only that Trump had claimed a $916 million loss but that he may have used it to avoid paying taxes for as many as 18 years. Nor do the forms provide any useful estimation of Trump’s annual outlays, a fact that prompted David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post to undertake a months-long investigation into the president-elect’s charitable giving (or, as it turned out, near-total lack of it) and namesake foundation. The paucity of such information, combined with Trump’s continual dissembling over his refusal to release his tax returns, has fueled speculation that they may contain information that could help explain some of his more unusual stances. In particular, some have suggested that Trump may be deep in debt to Russian oligarchs or the country’s state-owned bank, which could be part of the reason for his embrace of the country’s autocratic leader Vladimir Putin.
This speculation is so far unsubstantiated. In fact, there is currently no way of proving or disproving such rumors based on the information that’s already publicly available. Unless Trump releases his tax returns, the FEC filings, incomplete though they are, will continue to be the go-to documents for insight into the president-elect’s finances.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.