Since taking office, Trump businesses have made big money, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.
And it looks like the money will continue to roll in as President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign gears up.
A Yahoo Finance analysis of Federal Election filings in November showed the Republican National Committee spent close to $22,000 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., in the first two weeks of October alone, including more than $12,000 spent on catering. Other expenditures included hotel stays and venue rental at the property. A look at the most recently filed FEC filings show that the RNC has continued to spend thousands at Trump properties and hotels.
Trump’s joint fundraising committees, the Trump Victory and Trump Make America Great Again Committee, spent more than $1 million at Trump hotels and properties since the beginning of his presidency. By the fall of 2018, FEC filings showed that Trump’s reelection campaign spent nearly half a million dollars at Trump properties and holdings. (FEC filings for Trump’s fundraising committees aren’t yet available for 2019.)
Trump’s businesses also have an online retail presence, selling Trump merchandise. Items for sale include ties, chocolates, golf equipment, and more. Wednesday, the Trump Store launched a new “Cherry Blossom Collection” that it claims is inspired by the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C. The collection includes shirts, soaps, and sprays featuring landmarks around the District. Several items include depictions of the White House.
Blurring the lines
So, is this illegal? Jordan Libowitz, spokesman for the nonpartisan non-profit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), says no. But, it’s clear that Trump is profiting from his presidency, he says.
“To blur the lines between the presidency and the business, there first had to have been a line and I don’t think there is one”, Libowitz said. “It’s as if he uses the presidency to benefit the business. Quite frankly, he holds official government business at his properties.”
According to federal law, there are some images that the president can’t use on merchandise, like the presidential seal. Although, Libowitz adds, they have. Depictions of the White House and other famous landmarks are not covered by those federal regulations.
When he became president, Trump ceded control of The Trump Organization, which includes hotels, golf resorts, and apartment buildings. But Libowitz said he hasn’t divested.
When Trump became president, he created a revocable and non-blind trust. He’s allowed to remove money from it with permission of the trustee — his son, Donald Trump Jr, meaning that the president can still draw on the profits made by the business.
“When it comes to conflict of interest”, Libowitz said, “the conflict of interest statutes don’t apply to the president.”
“Because when they wrote them, they never imagined a billionaire with a multinational corporation to his name as president would hold on to that,” he continued. “The law needs to be updated to apply to the presidency.”
Libowitz said there is a limit to the laws that can apply to the president in this case, but that he could be violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution which prevents sitting officials — including the president – from profiting from their position. (CREW is involved in a lawsuit against Trump for violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution. The suit is ongoing. Previous emoluments lawsuits from CREW were dismissed and are awaiting decisions on appeal.)
But, Libowitz pointed out, it’s not a matter of difference between what is “ethically and morally right.”
“For generations, presidents on both sides of the aisle have gone out of their way to make sure there wasn’t any financial conflict of interest,” he said.
Kristin Myers is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.