The Post reports this morning that more than two dozen Republican Party committees have spent nearly half a million dollars holding campaign fundraisers at hotels and golf courses owned by President Trump since he took office in January. Together with $793,000 that Republican committees paid to Trump companies in rent and legal fees, Trump-owned companies have raked in $1.3 million in 2017 — from the president’s own party.
The Republican National Committee, congressional campaigns, state parties and the Republican Governors Association all paid Trump properties to host fundraisers, simultaneously using the Trump brand to fill campaign coffers and line the first family’s pockets.
It’s just the latest piece of mounting evidence that Trump and the companies in which he maintains a stake and that his family members still control are profiting off of his presidency, creating conflicts of interest never before seen in the Oval Office. Because we’ve never had a president with such wide-ranging business interests and complete unwillingness to avoid conflicts of interest, Trump is taking the country into uncharted waters — and we are likely only seeing the tip of the iceberg of the ways in which he will profit from his businesses by using his presidency as a marketing tool.
Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics and now a senior director at the Campaign Legal Center, told me in an interview that the new revelations are “amazing” and “terrible.” Although technically not covered by conflicts of interest laws that govern the conduct of other federal employees, Shaub said, “the president should act as though he is.” By refusing to conduct himself in accordance with these ethical norms, Trump is signaling that he’s above them — actions that undermine the public’s commitment to the democratic values that these norms represent.
Now we learn that, by renting out Trump properties for its own high-priced fundraisers, the Republican Party is dancing on the grave of those norms, as it raises campaign funds — while helping the Trump family profit.
As the top government ethics chief (a position he resigned last month), Shaub had called on Trump to divest from his many business holdings before he assumed office in January. Trump refused to relinquish his financial stake in his companies, although he left the day-to-day operations of his companies in the hands of his sons Eric and Donald Jr.
Under Trump’s presidency, the lavish, pricey Trump International Hotel has become a hub of activity for West Wing insiders and outsiders seeking to gain access to the Trump administration, an arrangement that has proved lucrative for the first family. As The Post reported this month, Trump family businesses earned nearly $2 million in profits from the hotel alone in just four months this year.
Trump could have avoided the appearance of a conflict even absent divestment in his holdings, Shaub pointed out, if he had directed Republicans to refrain from using Trump-branded properties for such political activities. Instead, he seems to be tacitly encouraging it, Shaub notes, creating the appearance that he is “determined to make as much money as he can off this presidency.”
And the Republican Party appears to be taking notice — it looks to be an active participant as the president leverages his power to increase his family’s company profits. In June, the Republican National Committee used Trump’s Washington hotel for a fundraiser, and last month paid the hotel $122,000 for use of the venue, according to The Post’s analysis of campaign finance records. Attendees paid $35,000 each to attend the fundraiser, which raised $10 million for the RNC and Trump’s reelection committee — thus enriching both the campaign coffers and the Trump hotel.
The Republican party committees and politicians hosting fundraisers at Trump-branded properties are “complicit” in “lining his pockets to curry favor with him or to promote his brand,” said Shaub. “All of this is just monetizing the presidency at our expense, frankly.” By attaching his name — and cachet — to staying at, golfing at or hosting a large event at a Trump-branded property, Trump is using the office to enrich himself and his family, and, seemingly, to encourage Republican political committees to help do the same.
Shaub pointed out that, by marketing and profiting from his own properties while in office, Trump, along with Republican officials and leaders, is modeling the worst behavior for government employees, by undermining the ethics norms that distinguish a democracy from a kleptocracy. And Republican officials and leaders are helping him do it.
The real recourse from Trump’s shredding of these norms has to come from the branches of government that act as a check on the executive. But one’s confidence in those branches is diminished by their apparent lack of commitment to upholding the norms themselves. After all, we have now learned that Republican officeholders and party officials apparently have no compunction about holding fundraisers at Trump properties. With Trump’s allies in his party and in government aiding and abetting him, he looks poised to continue to exploit the office of the leader of the free world for profit — and how successful he will be in this regard is anyone’s guess.