Kristina Webb and Jennifer Sorentrue and Alexandra Clough
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
PALM BEACH, Fla.
Three major philanthropic organizations said Thursday they are pulling their events from President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, with one already in discussions to move its 2018 fundraiser to another A-list oceanfront setting.
Late Thursday, the American Friends of Magen David Adom, an organization supporting Israel disaster relief programs, told The Palm Beach Post it is canceling a planned fund-raising gala at Mar-a-Lago, set for Sunday, Feb. 25.
“After considerable deliberation, AFMDA — an apolitical and humanitarian aid organization — will not hold its 2018 Palm Beach Celebration of Life Gala at Mar-a-Lago,” the brief statement said. Magen David Adom is Israel’s ambulance, blood services and disaster-relief organization.
Last season’s gala, held Feb. 26, featured more than 600 attendees who paid $650 per ticket.
Also Thursday, a prominent business leader in Palm Beach urged other charitable organizations sticking with Mar-a-Lago to reconsider their commitment to the president’s club. Laurel Baker, executive director of the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce, told those groups and their deep-pocket donors to “have a conscience” and seek another venue for their events.
The decisions by the American Cancer Society, Cleveland Clinic and the AFMDA were three of the latest examples of pushback to Trump in the days since the president’s off-the-cuff, combative and controversial news conference on Tuesday at Trump Tower, where he renewed his statements that “both sides” were at fault in the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, sparked by marches by neo-Nazis and white supremacists last weekend.
“Our values and commitment to diversity are critical as we work to address the impact of cancer in every community,” the American Cancer Society said in announcing it would move two 2018 events, a dinner for sponsors and its 60th anniversary gala, from the president’s Palm Beach estate. “It has become increasingly clear that the challenge to those values is outweighing other business considerations.”
That announcement followed a decision by Cleveland Clinic, a leading research hospital in the United States with a location in West Palm Beach, to move its event, possibly to the Eau Palm Beach Resort and Spa.
Nick Gold, the public relations director of the oceanfront Eau Palm Beach , said it is working with the hospital in hopes of hosting next year’s event.
“Their first call was to us,” Gold said. “We are talking to them. … We certainly want to work with The Cleveland Clinic.”
The American Cancer Society said it has not settled on a new location and is evaluating venue options. No further information was available about whether AFMDA would try to hold an event elsewhere in Palm Beach County during the season.
The Cleveland Clinic’s move follows previous assertions its event would go on at Trump’s Palm Beach estate as planned, despite protests and letters of concern from some who demanded the venue be changed.
The hospital has hosted the fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago for the past eight years, according to The Associated Press, raising anywhere from $700,000 to $1 million a year.
A representative for the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach said the nonprofit has no plans to move its fundraising event — The Palm Beach Wine Auction — which is scheduled to be held at Mar-a-Lago on Feb. 1. Tickets to the auction are $1,000 a person.
The Big Dog Ranch Rescue in Loxahatchee Groves also still plans to have one of its major fundraisers at Mar-a-Lago. The “Wine, Women and Shoes” event is scheduled for March 10, said Robin Friedman, Big Dog Ranch’s director of development.
“Most of our supporters know that we do what we do for our dogs, and that just happens to be the best venue,” Friedman said of Mar-a-Lago. “In fact, it’s one of the only venues where we can do an event of our size in the daytime.”
The president’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, is co-chairing the Big Dog Ranch Mar-a-Lago event with Georgina Bloomberg, daughter of billionaire Michael Bloomberg.
Gold said the resort can accommodate as many as 500 guests for a seated dinner. In addition to the Cleveland Clinic, the Eau has received inquiries from other charities looking to move events away from Mar-a-Lago, Gold said.
“We do see a lot of charities that are checking spaces to see what can be done,” Gold said.
Dave Anderson, the general manager of the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, said the venue is also hearing from groups who may be interested in moving events previously held at Mar-a-Lago. The convention center can host groups of roughly 1,000 people.
“We have a beautiful ballroom,” Anderson said. “We have a fantastic chef. … It is a great venue for social events. The only thing I can’t provide is an ocean at my doorstep.”
One leader in Palm Beach’s business community urged the charitable groups to consider a change of venue.
The Palm Beach Chamber’s Baker minced no words Thursday about whether charities should abandon Mar-a-Lago this season.
“If you have a conscience, you’re really condoning bad behavior by continuing to be there,” Baker said. “Many say it’s the dollars (raised at the events) that count. Yes. But the integrity of any or organization rests on their sound decisions and stewardship.”
She added: “Personally, I do not feel that supporting him, directly or indirectly, speaks well of any organization.”
Baker’s comments are the strongest yet from Palm Beach County’s business community in the wake of Trump’s conflicting and, to many, polarizing statements made in the aftermath of the weekend violence.
Last Friday night, neo-Nazis and white supremacists marched through the northwestern Virginia town that is home to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. On Saturday, a suspected white supremacist rammed a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19.
In response, Trump first blamed Saturday’s violence “on many sides,” but zeroed in on specific criticism of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis two days later after a backlash to his initial statement.
However, Trump doubled down on his first set of comments during Tuesday’s volatile news conference — and then tweeted support for Confederate monuments on Thursday.
No one from the Palm Beach County business community had spoken out publicly — until Baker.
Baker also expressed no patience for charities that will try to keep a low profile during this turbulent period.
“I hope that people will not maintain their neutrality,” she said. “This is the best time ever for people to show their backbone.”
Baker encouraged all charities to re-examine their core purpose for guidance about how to react to Trump’s comments.
In particular, she called out charities that advocate for social justice, the disabled, the poor and the sick.
“Look at your mission statement,” Baker said. “Are you living up to it?”
The Cleveland Clinic’s departure from Mar-a-Lago was no surprise after CEO Toby Cosgrove distanced himself from Trump following Tuesday’s comments. Cosgrove was one of a number of CEOs who stepped down from two White House business councils.
“Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both,” the president tweeted. “Thank you all!”
But the pressure for the Cleveland Clinic to move its event from Mar-a-Lago started this past spring, with petitions and backlash against the Ohio-based hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute as each planned lavish galas on the Palm Beach resort’s grounds during the first months of Trump’s presidency.