In 2005, Donald Trump claimed to a new record in his portfolio: The Learning Annex, an adult education company, had agreed to pay him $1.5 million per speech.
It was the highest speaking fee ever, a Learning Annex press release declared.
"The Learning Annex is paying me $1.5 Million... to Teach," Trump is quoted as saying in a newspaper ad for the real estate lectures. "Are they crazy?"
But as lawyers for Trump biographer Timothy O'Brien discovered in 2007, the company was actually paying Trump much less than that. He admitted in a deposition that the amount the company paid him in cash was "approximately $400,000" and that the numbers over $1 million he had publicly cited included "promotion expenses" like newspaper ads and billboards.
"It has a great value to me," Trump said of the promotion.
But numerous public statements by Trump, The Learning Annex, and company founder Bill Zanker presented $1 million and $1.5 million as Trump's speaking fees. When news outlets like Reuters, Associated Press, the Toronto Star, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News, Mother Jones, and the New York Times reported these claims, they did so without the caveat that the figures might account for anything beyond a straightforward speaking fee.
A book co-authored with Trump, a Learning Annex executive contradicted Trump's claim, saying the alleged million dollar speaking didn't include promotional expenses.
The issue provides yet another example of how Trump for years fooled the press with lofty statements about his business ventures only for the truth to trickle out weeks and sometimes even months later.
Asked by Larry King in 2005 about reports that he'd earned $1 million for a Learning Annex speech, Trump said, "That's true."
"$16,000 a minute is a lot of money, I know," Zanker told the Chicago Tribune, referring to Trump's supposed hourly rate. "He wanted more — a lot more," Zanker added.
When King brought up the $1 million figure in another interview with Trump the following year, Trump said, "It's actually more than that."
Though it's not clear how much Trump's speaking fee actually went up, or whether it did at all, Zanker told reporters that the star of The Apprentice had, in typical Trump fashion, demanded and received a better deal.
“The boldest thing I’ve seen him do was get a raise from $1 million to $1.5 million for a one-hour speech," Zanker told Westchester Magazine, praising Trump. "He was prepared to walk. I threatened, I screamed, but in the end, I paid.”
"Donald Trump, the Real Estate Rock Star of The Learning Annex Real Estate Expo, is getting a raise," said an October Learning Annex press release. "The nation's toughest boss is getting a 50 percent pay hike in salary from $1 million an hour to $1.5 million. That is $25,000 a minute. It is also the highest price ever paid for a speech."
In November, The New York Times reported Zanker saying that the hefty fee he paid Rupert Murdoch paled in comparison to what he paid Trump.
"After all, he noted, he gives Donald J. Trump $1.5 million to deliver a one-hour lecture at real-estate seminars." the Times wrote.
''Paying Rupert Murdoch $1,000 a minute for a one-hour lunch feels like a
bargain compared to the $25,000 a minute I'm paying Donald Trump," Zanker told the paper.
A November press release from The Learning Annex said that the company would pay him $15 million in 2006, featuring a quote from Zanker defending the alleged $1.5 million fee.
"In the 25-year history of The Learning Annex, there's never been a bigger draw than Donald Trump," his statement said. "Nobody's even a close second. He's worth every dollar we're paying him and then some. Additionally, Donald Trump is the greatest natural speaker I have ever seen, and I have been doing this all of my life."
Zanker's partnership with Trump did not end with The Learning Annex speeches. The two wrote a book together, Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and Life, published in 2007. In it, Zanker addresses the speaking fee, discussing it in terms more similar to those Trump used that year's deposition than those he'd used in the past.
"If you consider the advertising, promotions, and everything The Learning
Annex does to enhance the Trump brand, nationally and internationally,
Donald gets much more than $1.5 million per speech—but he donates much
of the money to charity," Zanker wrote in the book. (BuzzFeed News and the Washington Post have reported extensively on Trump's claims about his charitable giving, which he has not substantiated.)
Reached on Wednesday by BuzzFeed News, Zanker refused to comment on the speeches or the exaggeration of Trump's fee.
"Donald went over that," Zanker said. "Donald answered that correctly, okay?"
"You don't want to ask me, you want to ask Donald," he later added, before eventually hanging up.
A Trump campaign representative didn't return a request for comment. See some of the examples below:
An October 19, 2005 press release from The Learning Annex:
NEW YORK, Oct. 19 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Donald Trump, the Real Estate Rock Star of The Learning Annex Real Estate Expo, is getting a raise. The nation's toughest boss is getting a 50 percent pay hike in salary from $1 million an hour to $1.5 million. That is $25,000 a minute. It is also the highest price ever paid for a speech.
According to Bill Zanker, Founder and President of the 25 year old Learning Annex Company, "Mr. Trump is the most amazing speaker we've ever had in our 25 year history. He is worth every penny of what we pay him. Our students adore him and he is the perfect star for our Real Estate Wealth Expo. He is a real estate mogul and a Hollywood celebrity. There is no one better than Donald, and no one else who can draw such a crowd." The last time Mr.
Trump spoke for the Learning Annex in Los Angeles, a record crowd of 46,000 people attended. Mr. Trump has signed on to talk about Real Estate at The Learning Annex Real Estate Wealth Expo in several cities including Chicago in November, and in 2006 in Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Boston. This weekend, Saturday and Sunday, October 22nd and 23rd, The Learning Annex Real
Estate Expo takes place at the Jacob Javits Center in New York and 48,500 people have signed up. This will be the largest speaking event, and the largest consumer real estate expo ever. For 48,500 savvy NY'ers, there is no Real Estate bubble.
Learning Annex ads boasting about the speaking fee in newspapers:
And Trump boasted to Larry King in 2006 he got more than one million dollars for his Learning Annex speeches:
KING: On marketing and real estate. I saw those. You have tapes. You're everywhere. And what is this thing with the Learning Annex?
TRUMP: Well, the Learning Annex...
KING: Look at this ad in the "L.A. Times".
TRUMP: The Learning -- I didn't put that in. The Learning Annex is a great institution and they have seminars and as an example this coming Sunday we have a seminar in San Francisco, 61,500 people. We're having one in Los Angeles in about three weeks. We have over 50,000 people coming.
And for some reason I draw large crowds and the Learning Annex people liked me very, very much and we talk about making money. We talk about life. We talk about sort of everything but a lot of people show up to the Learning Annex seminars that I give with the Learning Annex. And then we have other speakers also but I'm the featured speaker and it really is very exciting. We just left Dallas. We had 11,000 people. It was unbelievable.
KING: And you do it like a lecture?
TRUMP: I do it like a lecture and frankly they pay me a lot of money but I do it because I love doing it. I really enjoy doing it. It's usually on a Sunday night, so I'll leave either New York City of Palm Beach. I'll fly out to wherever the destination is and we'll have crowds that are unbelievable.
KING: True I read that in New York you got $1 million?
TRUMP: The speech, yes.
KING: For the Learning Annex.
TRUMP: Yes, that's true. It's actually more than that.
Learning Annex's Bill Zanker addressed the fee in the book he wrote with Trump, Think Big and Kick Ass:
That is an example of the Trump attitude. Trump knows his worth, and he gets people to pay him for it. But it is not only for the money. With Trump it is never just for the money. He is passionate about everything he does. He loves connecting with people, helping them, and educating them. If you consider the advertising, promotions, and everything The Learning Annex does to enhance the Trump brand, nationally and internationally, Donald gets much more than $1.5 million per speech— but he donates much of the money to charity.