A week-long stay by the University of Wisconsin football team at a Florida resort owned by President Trump is providing new potential fodder for a lawsuit alleging that the president’s private business has put him in violation of the Constitution.
During a visit to Miami to play in last month’s Orange Bowl, the University of Wisconsin — a public university — put up about 250 players, athletic department staff, senior university officials and board members at the Trump National Doral golf resort.
The university’s stay may provide new ammunition to the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia, which sued Trump in June for allegedly violating anti-corruption clauses in the Constitution by accepting millions in payments and benefits from foreign and state governments to his private company.
In an interview, Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) said that the football team’s stay goes against the Constitution’s domestic emoluments clause, which prohibits the president from accepting benefits or financial rewards from state governments.
“Something like that is a problem, without question,” Frosh said in an interview. “It’s another example of how the potential for corruption is enormous.”
The Justice Department, which is representing Trump in the litigation, declined to comment on the case. The Trump Organization has referred questions about the case to the government.
The Doral resort was not selected by the school but by the Orange Bowl Committee, which organizes the game and signed a multiyear deal with Doral in 2014, before Trump ran for president.
Orange Bowl spokesman Larry Wahl said that the group “conducted a comprehensive request for proposal process to determine viable hotel properties” and determined that “Trump Doral not only meets, but exceeds our partners’ requirements for upcoming bowl games.”
For the Dec. 30 game, the University of Wisconsin-Madison sent 220 students and athletic department staff for seven nights from Christmas Eve through New Year’s Eve. The group included players, student managers, trainers, and full-time staff such as coaches and administrators.
They were joined there by 24 senior administrators, most of the university’s Board of Regents and members of the school’s Athletic Board. (The marching band attended but did not stay at Doral.)
University spokesman John Lucas said the final bill had not been tallied but would be paid by the school in February using revenue from bowl proceeds, ticket sales, concessions and other sources. Lucas said the payment would not come from tax-generated funds, but plaintiffs suing the president, including Frosh, argue such payments from state-controlled entities would be considered emoluments.
Based on rates paid by other large groups to stay at the resort, the university’s Doral accommodations probably cost well over $100,000.
A legislative audit of the university’s 1999 trip to the Rose Bowl found that the school spent $2,093,500 on that trip, though that included a wide array of expenses beyond lodging. The school later reformed its bowl travel procedures.
Although Trump resigned from his management position of his company when he entered the White House, he still benefits financially from his businesses, which include residential, office, hotel and golf properties in the United States, Europe and South America. He bought Doral for $150 million in 2012.
The emoluments provisions have never been tested in the courts, and lawsuits targeting the president on foreign and domestic payments to his properties have so far hit roadblocks.
On Dec. 21, a federal judge in New York dismissed a different emoluments suit, brought by the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), saying the organization lacked standing to file the suit.
A judge in a third suit, brought on behalf of Cork Wine Bar in Northwest Washington, ruled Jan. 2 that the case would be heard in federal court and not D.C. Superior Court, making it more likely it could be dismissed as well.
In legal filings, the Justice Department has argued that courts do not have the authority to enforce the emoluments provisions. After CREW’s case was dismissed, the department issued a statement applauding the conclusion that “Plaintiffs lack standing to pursue these claims in federal court, that Plaintiffs’ claims do not fall within the zone of interests of the Emoluments Clauses, and that Plaintiffs’ claims involve political questions that cannot be resolved in federal court.”
Regardless of whether the football team’s Doral visit makes a difference in court, it created a stir on campus, with one student group issuing a statement saying: “There are hundreds of hotels in the Miami area, and the Wisconsin football team and its supporters should be staying in a different one.”
David A. Fahrenthold contributed to this report.