MONEY Election 2016

No, Trump University Does Not Have an ‘A’ Rating from the Better Business Bureau

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participates in a debate sponsored by Fox News at the Fox Theatre on March 3, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participates in a debate sponsored by Fox News at the Fox Theatre on March 3, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan.

Trump University would have to still be in business to be rated.

Thursday’s Republican debate on Fox News saw presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz take front-runner Donald Trump to task for his flip-flopping policy positions, small hands, and failed business ventures. One of the most contested moments of the night was Rubio’s questioning of Trump University, which is currently embroiled in a $40 million fraud lawsuit. Two other class-action lawsuits have also been filed by former students.

Pressed on the issue, Trump claimed Trump University (renamed the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative, since it is not an actual university or even an accredited school) has “an A from the Better Business Bureau.” Rubio retorted that the claim was “false,” and that the business actually has a “D-” grade. Trump went on to say that the “grade was elevated.”

Who’s correct? The short answer is that at one point, Trump University did have an “A” rating according to the BBB, but it does not now and did not when it closed down.

It’s important to understand what the Better Business Bureau really is. Rather than an official government entity, the BBB is a nonprofit organization that aggregates business reviews and is comprised of over 100 independent organizations in cities across the United States and Canada. Money’s Brad Tuttle reported on the organization’s history with controversy, stemming from businesses paying a fee to be reviewed more favorably. Also notably, the BBB is not a consumer watchdog organization.

The organization’s customers are businesses, not taxpayers or consumers. How can the BBB serve as an honest broker between businesses and consumers when it is fully funded by one of these parties? Many argue that it cannot — that there’s a natural incentive to paint its paying clients in the best possible light.

Back to Trump. The BBB issued a statement to PolitiFact stating “Over the years, the company’s BBB rating has fluctuated between an A+ and a D-.” Investigating further, the site found that the last time Trump University was rated by the BBB in 2010, it received a D- rating. The business closed down that same year. Trump is incorrect insofar as the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative does not currently have a rating from the BBB, because it closed down.

What we do know, from several published reports and archived Web pages, is that the university had a D in 2010 and under its new name, had ratings ranging from C to B, with no ratings after March 2014.

On March 3, Trump tweeted an image of the BBB rating appearing to show an “A” rating, although a search today on the website shows that there is “No Rating.” Michael Cohen, executive vice president of the Trump Organization and special counsel to Donald Trump, emailed MONEY a screen grab that showed the photo that Trump tweeted was accessed from the BBB website in August 2014.

Update: This story has been updated with information from Trump’s special counsel.

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