Many transition teams have started from scratch, opting for government-offered offices and telephones in downtown Washington. But Trump has used his own high-profile real estate, helping embolden an effort already aided by a private transition fund and the most public transition money ever offered to a president-elect.
No law prevents the president-elect from using that public money to reimburse his own businesses. But Trump spokesman Jason Miller told The Washington Post that “no Congress-appropriated transition funding will be going to any Trump businesses.”
The president-elect has faced increasing scrutiny in recent days over whether his private companies could profit off his public influence. Trump has refused to separate himself from his business interests, stoking worries over the conflicts of interest that could arise from his decisions in the Oval Office.
Trump has said that his children will run his businesses during his presidency, but ethics advisers say that offers little guarantee that Trump won’t make presidential decisions that could boost his business interests. He named his children to his transition team’s executive committee, giving them influential roles in whom he selects for key political appointments.
Trump’s transition spending and potential conflicts have already become big targets for Democrats. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a letter Wednesday to the Government Accountability Office requesting a review of Trump’s public spending in the weeks before the inauguration.
“There is no transparency with regard to transition expenditures, raising additional questions about how taxpayer funds may be flowing into Mr. Trump’s pockets,” Warren wrote. “… To what extent have Mr. Trump’s conflicts of interest affected his presidential transition?”
Congress appropriated $6 million for the president-elect and his transition team in the fiscal 2017 budget, which began Oct. 1 of this year, according to the General Services Administration, the federal agency that manages government space and services.
Another $1 million is set aside to help prepare new appointees, while $2.5 million is allocated to help the Obama administration on the way out, the GSA said.
A spokesman for the GSA said the Trump team has not sought reimbursement for use of space in a Trump property or golf course. The final call for transition payments is still months away.
The law covering transition spending, the Presidential Transitions Effectiveness Act of 1988, says nothing about self-dealing and has never been tested by a president-elect whose business holdings could directly benefit.
That public money will be supplemented by private donations given to Trump for America Inc., a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt nonprofit separate from the campaign and launched earlier this year. In exchange for the government’s support, the transition teams must agree to $5,000 limits for each private individual and corporate donor.
Trump’s private transition fund has already proven a valuable target for donors seeking to double down on the support they gave Trump before the election — or make amends for not backing the president-elect’s campaign.
Fundraising for that effort has been in full swing for weeks. A few days before the election, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Heritage Foundation president Ed Feulner hosted a $5,000-per-person fundraiser and transition “information session” at the Washington office of BakerHostetler, a law firm that has pocketed nearly $2 million in lobbying income this year.
Who’s donating to Trump’s transition? We probably won’t know until Trump has assumed power. The first disclosure filing, required in exchange for the GSA’s services, is not due until 30 days after the Jan. 20 inauguration.
The Trump Foundation, a regular channel for donations to Trump, could also delay reporting its 2016 tax returns until November 2017, meaning voters won’t know who gave Trump money during his transition stage until nearly the end of his first year in office.
The 73 days between election and inauguration are a period of costly chaos: The president-elect must make 4,100 political appointments, 1,100 of which need Senate confirmation. Trump has held more than 60 meetings since the election to plan and staff his administration, Miller said Wednesday.
The transition also comes with a strict deadline. On Jan. 20, Trump will instantly gain power over a massive force, including a $4 trillion federal operation and with 4 million federal workers and armed-forces personnel.
The public funding will cover the costs of a transition operation at GSA headquarters in downtown Washington, where the transition staff is vetting candidates for thousands of the positions it needs to fill across the government with political appointees.
Past presidential transitions have generally relied on that government-provided office space and other “in-kind” help. But there are exceptions: In 2008, President-elect Barack Obama’s team worked out of a Chicago transition office chosen by GSA officials.
Trump’s transition team will have more public money at their disposal than past transition efforts. Obama’s team spent $5.2 million in appropriated public dollars and $4 million in private donations, data show. George W. Bush’s 2000 transition spent $5 million in private money and $4 million in public funds.
But the price tag of Trump’s transition effort for now remains a mystery: Much of it has taken place almost solely in the golden confines of Trump Tower and his bucolic New Jersey golf club. That could lead the transition effort to rely heavily on private donors.
“The money they get is not typically enough to pay for all transition activities, so they’re forced to raise money privately. They go to maxed-out donors,” said Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan good-government group. “Even if they spend it on very expensive Trump Tower space, they’re going to actually have to raise that money.”
Trump’s presidential run was a robust moneymaker for Trump’s businesses. More than $9.6 million in campaign donations was used to cover expenses for Trump’s companies and family, including payments for his private-jet company Tag Air, rent and payroll at Trump Tower and rental space at the new Trump International Hotel in Washington, election filings show.
Trump gave his campaign more than $66 million in cash and in-kind contributions, short of his repeated pledge that he would spend $100 million of cash on his White House bid, filings show. But Trump’s campaign prospered in other ways. When U.S. Secret Service agents guarding Trump traveled on Trump’s jets, the federal government, in keeping with policy, reimbursed Trump’s company.
Trump regularly criticized President Obama for his use of public funds. In July, Trump tweeted that it was a “total disgrace” and that taxpayers were “paying a fortune” after Obama flew via Air Force One to a campaign event for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.