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President Donald Trump's inaugural committee paid out nearly $26 million to an event planning company that was reportedly founded by an adviser to first lady Melania Trump.
The 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee — which organized Trump's inauguration last year and was led by Tom Barrack, a close friend of the president and a financial backer of the campaign — paid a company called WIS Media Partners $25.8 million for "event production services," tax returns released Thursday by the organization showed.
According to The New York Times, WIS Media Partners was founded in December 2016 — one month before the inauguration — by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former fashion executive and event planner who'd previously been best known for planning the annual Met Gala. Melania Trump later hired Wolkoff as a senior adviser.
A spokesperson for Melania Trump told NBC News that the first lady "had no involvement with the PIC, and had no knowledge of how funds were spent." The first lady's office added that Wolkoff is a special government employee for the office and is unpaid.
The Times reported that Wolkoff was personally paid $1.62 million of the $25.8 million.
Another $25 million of the overall inaugural spending went to Hargrove Inc. for "event production services," the tax filings showed, meaning that roughly half of the inaugural committee's record $107 million raised went to just two vendors.
The committee had said previously that it would donate any money not used for the festivities to charity. But in September, The Associated Press reported that the group hadn't yet made any donations, despite having made promises to donate $3 million to charities that help with hurricane relief.
Thursday's filing showed that the group ultimately donated about $5 million to charitable organizations, including $1 million to three involved with hurricane relief: the American Red Cross; the Salvation Army; and Samaritan's Purse. Another $1 million went to the White House Historical Association, while the Smithsonian Institution got $250,000.