The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion How Ivanka Trump could benefit from a tax break she promoted

Ivanka Trump attends a ceremony at the White House on Wednesday where President Trump signed an executive order boosting the Opportunity Zones program. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Placeholder while article actions load

Last year, when the Republican tax reform effort was seemingly on the ropes, first daughter Ivanka Trump went out on the hustings. In talks with political players, she advocated for a beefed-up child tax credit and talked up the plan’s ultimate doubling of it from $1,000 to $2,000. When the bill became law, she tweeted out, “Celebrating a historic win for American working families.”

What Trump didn’t mention as frequently was that the tax package was quite possibly a personal financial win for her and husband, Jared Kushner. Her good “fortune” came via something else she was instrumental in bringing into the tax package — a plan to offer real estate investors the opportunity to delay capital gains bills for developing projects in what the government deemed eligible economically disadvantaged areas, something known as “Opportunity Zones.”

As an Associated Press investigation reports on a Jared Kushner investment:

Kushner holds a big stake in a real estate investment firm, Cadre, that recently announced it is launching a series of Opportunity Zone funds that seek to build major projects under the program from Miami to Los Angeles. Separately, the couple has interests in at least 13 properties held by Kushner’s family firm that could qualify for the tax breaks because they are in Opportunity Zones in New Jersey, New York and Maryland — all of which, a study found, were already coming back.
Six of the Kushner Cos. buildings are in New York City’s Brooklyn Heights area, with views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan skyline, where a five-bedroom apartment recently listed for $8 million. Two more are in the beach town of Long Branch, New Jersey, where some oceanfront condos within steps of a white-tablecloth Italian restaurant and a Lululemon yoga shop list for as much as $2.7 million.

So, let’s get the disclaimers out of the way. No, the Associated Press didn’t find evidence that either Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump played any role in deciding which communities would get the coveted Opportunity Zone imprimatur. That’s decided by individual state government authorities, so it’s hard to hold President Trump’s daughter and son-in-law responsible for state governments’ deeming such wealthy neighborhoods as New York’s Brooklyn Heights or Long Island City as somehow disadvantaged. Nor have they said whether they even use the tax credit when eligible.

Follow Helaine Olen's opinionsFollow

But still. The Associated Press quotes “government watchdogs” kindly calling this an “ethical minefield,” and the article points out that, despite blind trusts, and even if the couple refrains from ever filing to receive a single penny via an Opportunity Zone, it’s quite likely the properties will benefit from an increase in prices in the chosen neighborhoods.

Others might well take a less charitable viewpoint. After all, the AP reported that “Ivanka Trump played an important role in promoting the legislation, while Kushner was also quietly supportive behind the scenes.” The AP also quoted Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel for the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, saying, “Jared Kushner’s interests are Ivanka Trump’s interests and vice versa.”

There’s a history of Ivanka Trump having questionable ethics. Investigations by ProPublica have found she routinely exaggerated the number of units sold in Trump family properties in locations including New York’s Soho neighborhood, Panama, Canada and Mexico, and according to New York prosecutors, looked the other way while her father used his charitable Trump Foundation for personal financial gain. While in the White House, she frequently posted official photos of herself wearing outfits from her own clothing line before its closure, and, one time, the company received trademark approvals from the Chinese government hours after Ivanka Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. When it comes to appearances, Kushner is no better. A real estate company with investments from the government of Qatar put money into his family’s famously troubled project at 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

The question then is why give the couple the benefit of the doubt? Their wealth, after all, was inherited and, in Ivanka Trump’s case, mostly dependent on her father and husband’s fortunes — even her line of women’s clothing owed no small portion of its success to the name Trump. (She admitted this, once telling the New York Times that she included both her first and last name when naming her brand because of the value embedded in the word “Trump.”)

Yet Trump pitched herself as an independently successful women and a champion of female strivers, something perhaps possible only in a nation such as the United States, where we are all-too-loath to admit to the privileges of class and connections. But, really, what advice or guidance could Trump offer someone who couldn’t afford 24/7 household help, and didn’t possess a father with a ready checkbook and private plane? It didn’t even occur to her to offer her own employees paid maternity leave until they began to complain. Her turn to you-go-girl feminism always reeked of a grift, one designed to improve her corporate bottom line, boost her self-esteem and, eventually, her father’s political fortunes.

As for the Opportunity Zones, they are now likely an even better investment. On Wednesday, the White House held a small signing ceremony for a new executive-branch initiative designed to boost government investment in the designated areas, including federal spending on infrastructure improvements. Ivanka Trump was among the people in attendance.

If we saw all this occurring in the family of the president or prime minister of another country, we would roll our eyes and deem it sleazy and potentially corrupt. It’s behavior worthy of the second- or third-world oligarchy President Trump’s leadership is turning the United States into, not the first-world country we believe ourselves to be.