Let's remember the time Donald Trump cashed a 13¢ check sent to him as a prank

Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump! Everyone is talking about Trump, whether you're a fan of the man or a cry-baby loser. He's been a part of the fabric of New York City and American culture for decades now. He's running for President right now and claims to be worth a lot of money. Did you know he once cashed a check for 13 cents that a magazine sent him as an experiment to see if he'd cash it? Because that happened once!

Published between 1986 and 1998, Spy magazine was the hip, satirical, bomb-throwing magazine du jour, and in 1990 the writers had a great idea for a prank: What would happen if you sent checks for small amounts to celebrities and saw who cashed them, putting to test the theory that every man (and woman) has a price? In their words:

"We could however, send them checks for minuscule sums of money—sums so small they couldn’t fund as much as a minute of the recipients’ existence—and see who would bother to bank these teensy amounts of money."


Spy thought "some subterfuge" would be necessary—it'd be suspicious to get a check from the magazine that lampooned so many of the intended recipients. This was specifically true for Trump, who Spy once famously referred to as a "short-fingered vulgarian."

So, they created a fully funded and incorporated company called National Refund Clearinghouse, which allowed them to open a checking account. Then they drafted a letter explaining that the check was a refund for a small overcharge that had occurred in 1988—what the celebrities had been overcharged for was never mentioned. They sent the checks out (initially for $1.11) to 58 well-known people like Cher, Henry Kissinger, and, of course, Donald Trump. Of the 58, 26 cashed the checks—Donald included.

The magazine drafted a followup letter and checks for $0.64 to those 26 people to see who would take more free money. Thirteen—including Donald Trump—deposited the checks worth two quarters, a dime, and four pennies into their banks.

Then they went for one last score: in honor of those 13 people, 13 more checks for $0.13. Two people cashed them: a Saudi arms dealer named Adnan Khashoggi, and Donald Trump.




13 cents! Three pennies and two nickels! Now that's financial responsibility you can run for the presidency on.


Feel free to peruse the Spy magazine archives on Google Books.

David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: david.matthews@fusion.net

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