In Donald Trump’s White House, Jared Kushner has many jobs. The president’s son-in-law is a senior adviser to Trump. He has been charged with leading the administration’s “Office of American Innovation,” an entity launched in March with sweeping authority to revamp the federal bureaucracy and bring ideas from the business world to work on issues such as veterans health care and the opioid addiction crisis. He has been described as a shadow diplomat, with a foreign policy portfolio that includes Mexico and the Middle East.
But counting up the titles he stepped down from leading up to Trump's inauguration, and the number looked to some, at first glance, as even more eye-popping. In a recent story following the release of revised filings by Kushner and Ivanka Trump, The Washington Post reported that Kushner had “resigned from 266 corporate positions, and Trump stepped down from 292 positions.”
Some on social media were scratching their heads. How does one person hold more than 250 positions?
"Kushner resigned from 266 corporate positions, and Trump stepped down from 292 positions, the documents show."
what does this even mean https://t.co/tCVTePE4jq
— vapid credos (@davidcrespo) July 22, 2017
Who has this many jobs? "Kushner resigned from 266 corporate positions, and Trump stepped down from 292 positions" https://t.co/pVRwQ6uaoq
— Jacqueline Rose (@JaxJacin) July 22, 2017
The confusion by some is understandable. Few if any presidential advisers have come to the job with assets as complex and sprawling as those of Kushner and Trump. Before the inauguration, Kushner was chief executive of his family's real estate company, which includes holdings of residential, office and commercial real estate projects and buildings. He was the publisher of the New York Observer newspaper, on the investment committee of a venture capital fund and a board member for nonprofits.
But in Kushner's case, according to a form that asks the filer to list “positions held outside the United States government,” the vast majority — 220 of the 266 — are related to limited liability companies, many of which appear to be associated with individual buildings or real estate projects. (Ivanka Trump also resigned from many positions related to LLCs, her filing shows, a number of which appeared to be related to real estate or to holding Trump licenses or trademarks, some of which are dormant or inactive.)
The Post's Amy Brittain and Jonathan O'Connell reported in May that Kushner owns “stakes in limited liability companies that often have no employees, offices or websites. Some are owned through generic registered-agent offices in Dover, Del., and function as holding companies for other assets.”
In other words, Kushner's 266 “positions” do not necessarily indicate typical “jobs” as people may think of them, said Larry Noble, a former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission and the senior director for ethics at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. “All the LLC is there for is to own the building,” he said in an interview. Most likely, “he's not taking calls from tenants.” (The Campaign Legal Center has filed complaints to the Federal Election Commission about Trump's campaign and has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice regarding the disclosure of requested records.)
The practice is extremely common in real estate, experts say. Investors and real estate companies favor limited liability companies as a way to protect their assets, said Paul Habibi, a real estate investor who teaches at UCLA's law and business schools. “The idea is you don't want to have liabilities that permeate across multiple assets,” he said. “One commonly accepted way to do that is to put each [project] into a different limited liability company.”
He gives the example of the owner of an apartment building who is sued because someone gets hurt walking off the elevator. “It insulates the owner of the LLC so claims can't go against the member personally” or against other properties they own, said Habibi, who himself said he is a member in “dozens” of LLCs.
Michael Knoll, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School who studies taxation and real estate, said real estate companies also use LLCs because some lenders favor them, and because of their tax structure. Lenders “want to know that a liability from something else won't impinge on the loans they’ve made to various entities,” he said.
They're also known as a “pass-through” entity for taxation, meaning that unlike a corporation, they can avoid double taxation. Instead, each owner's share of income is put on his or her individual tax return. “With LLCs, it’s easy for them to proliferate because everything goes on the personal tax return,” Knoll said. “You’re not so much worried about having income in one and [expenses] in another. You generally can offset them.”
Ivanka held 292 corporate leadership positions & Jared held 266. Am I the only one who is baffled by this detail? pic.twitter.com/FfSqMG747L
— Aaron Franco (@AFrancoTX) July 22, 2017
Benny Kass, a Washington and Maryland lawyer who writes a real estate column for The Washington Post, said LLCs can become convoluted, with multiple layers of LLCs nested inside one another on a single property, which helps insulate investors and can hide the identities of the beneficial owners who may or may not be named in an LLC.
Noble makes a similar point. While there are some differences depending on state law, he said, the investors behind LLCs are often anonymous. In Kushner's case, he said, there is still plenty unknown about the investments and partners behind the LLCs: “It could be all his money, it could be loans, he could have other partners.”
A White House spokesman said in an emailed statement that “Jared Kushner has complied with his financial disclosure obligations, and the Office of Government Ethics certified his personal disclosure form.”
Real estate experts were clear about one thing: Having a named position for more than 200 LLCs may be a full-time job, but it does not likely mean having that many operational roles. The “managing member” or “president” of an LLC that holds a single building or project is typically only involved in high-level decisions, such as the sale of a building or the change of a management company, Knoll said.
Kushner's filing, he said, does not “suggest he had 266 jobs.” When it comes to the LLCs, he said, he likely “had a responsible, high-level management role over important decisions, but this is not likely to be day-to-day operations.”