Analysis: There’s a possible connection between the Trump Foundation and Vince McMahon’s newly-revealed unrecorded payments

The subject of this article was later confirmed by The Wall Street Journal on August 17, 2022.

WWE stated in a public filing on Tuesday it found an additional $5 million in unrecorded company expenses related to two payments former CEO and chairman Vince McMahon made in 2007 and 2009.

Many, including me, initially thought the additional money had to do with McMahon’s series of alleged pay-offs to women for nondisclosure agreements, but after some research, it seems more likely it’s connected to Donald Trump.

According to IRS filings, WWE spent a total of exactly $5 million in contributions to the Donald J. Trump Foundation in the same two years, 2007 and 2009. The records indicate the contributions came from WWE, and use its headquarters address, with no specific person named; the latest years-old comments from WWE’s media relations attributed the donations to Vince McMahon and his wife Linda McMahon, personally.

We asked a WWE spokesperson this week whether the similarities in the payment amounts and years are an unrelated coincidence, but have yet to hear back.

Tuesday was WWE’s stated target date for publishing reissued financial statements and its second-quarter earnings, but instead, the company wrote the report was being delayed.

Vince McMahon resigned on July 22 from the company he’s been closely identified with since the 1980s, amid an investigation by WWE’s board of directors into his alleged sexual misconduct and money paid to multiple women for NDAs between 2006 and 2022. The previously concealed pay-offs, which, until Tuesday, the company stated totaled $14.6 million, should’ve been recorded in WWE’s financial reporting because they benefited the company.

The unrecorded expenses WWE states it needs to catch up on have grown to $19.6 million.

“[T]he Company has determined that two additional payments totaling $5.0 million, unrelated to the allegations that led to the Special Committee investigation, that Mr. McMahon made in 2007 and 2009 should have been recorded in the Company’s consolidated financial statements,” the company wrote in the Tuesday filing.

WWE was by far the biggest contributor to the Trump Foundation in 2007 and 2009, giving the organization $4 million and $1 million in those years, respectively, and in round numbers — which adds up to match the $5.0 million mentioned in the new WWE filing. Those were also years when the future U.S. president made rare appearances on WWE television programs.

Trump and McMahon supported opposing wrestlers on pay-per-view at WrestleMania in 2007 in what was billed “The Battle of the Billionaires” and resulted in McMahon having his head shaved as a stipulation of his side losing. In 2009, Trump, in an on-air storyline, “bought” WWE’s weekly Monday Night Raw program and “sold” it soon after.

Despite the IRS filings listing WWE as the contributors to the Foundation in those years, a WWE spokesperson in October 2012 said the money came directly from Vince McMahon, as opposed to the company, or both Vince and Linda. The WWE comment was made weeks before the election in which Linda was running for U.S. Senate for the second time.

Later, in 2016, a WWE spokesperson denied the Foundation contributions served as Trump’s appearance fees and that “WWE paid Donald Trump appearance fees separately.” But this time WWE said both McMahons personally made the contributions to the Foundation. “Vince and Linda McMahon made personal donations to Donald Trump’s foundation,” the spokesperson told the Huffington Post at the time.

WWE gave a comment consistent with that in 2017 after former chief operating officer Donna Goldsmith theorized the donations were in exchange for Trump’s appearances.

It wouldn’t be the first time Trump did something like that. He accepted donations to the Foundation in exchange for other work he did in entertainment, including from NBCUniversal and Comedy Central.

“My guess is that [the contributions to the Trump Foundation] did come directly from Vince,” Goldsmith told Forbes in 2017. “It was probably a payment for the [2007] ‘Hair Versus Hair’ match.”

Trump’s appearances at and leading up to WWE’s biggest pay-per-view event of the year in 2007 possibly being related to a $4 million contribution, and his 2009 appearances on Raw possibly being connected to a lesser $1 million contribution, could reflect the difference in the agreed-upon value of those two sets of appearances.

As for the possible motivation for compensating Trump through his Foundation for performing on WWE television, doing so may have allowed Trump to avoid paying taxes, something he’s made an effort to do in other cases. Likewise, claiming a large charitable donation to the Trump Foundation might have eased the McMahons’ personal tax burden in those years. Whether any of that is legal is another question.

And there’s one more coincidence, but with less reason yet to believe it’s related to the latest details on the scandal surrounding Vince McMahon. The wrestling company’s disclosure on Tuesday came just a day after the FBI executed a search warrant on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida. Beyond the timing and the relationship between Trump and the McMahons, there isn’t more evidence yet that the search, seemingly related to the suspected removal of classified documents from the White House, is connected to McMahon. The Department of Justice on Thursday moved to unseal the search warrant and the itemized receipt of what was taken by the FBI.

The scandal that led to Vince McMahon’s resignation began emerging to the public in June when The Wall Street Journal broke the story. Allegations include a coerced sex act with one of his former female wrestlers, sending unwanted nude photos, and having inappropriate relationships with his employees.

Federal investigations scrutinizing the scandal are underway, according to a report from the Journal last month. The report said those investigations played a role in compelling McMahon to permanently step down from WWE. He remains the company’s controlling shareholder. Another executive who is a subject of misconduct allegations, John Laurinaitis, who headed the company’s talent relations department, was fired.

Linda McMahon, who is a former WWE executive, served in Trump’s cabinet as Small Business Administrator from 2017 to 2019. She’s continued leading political organizations supporting Trump even after his presidency ended.

Trump and the McMahons have a long relationship that goes back to the 1980s when Trump’s venues in Atlantic City hosted the McMahons’ WrestleMania events in 1988 and 1989.

Since Vince’s resignation, Stephanie McMahon (his daughter) and Nick Khan have taken over as co-CEOs. Stephanie assumes his place as chairman of the board of directors. Stephanie’s husband and Vince’s son-in-law, “Triple H” Paul Levesque is now in Vince’s former role as head of creative and in Laurinaitis’s former role as head of talent relations.

Donald J. Trump Foundation’s Form 990-PF for period ending December 2007, page 16. Highlight added by Wrestlenomics.

Donald J. Trump Foundation’s Form 990-PF for period ending December 2009, page 16. Highlight added by Wrestlenomics.

WWE’s Form 12b-25, published August 9, 2022, page 2. Highlight added by Wrestlenomics.

Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also worked as an independent wrestler and trainer.

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