WASHINGTON – President. Candidate. Businessman. Three of President Donald Trump’s roles converge next week as he holds his first re-election fundraiser at his hotel in Washington.
Trump can see the Trump International Hotel from the White House lawn, making it a premier and convenient location for the June 28 major-donor event, his campaign director Michael Glassner said.
But the choice also raises ethics questions, according to conflict of interest attorneys who have been critical of Trump’s decision not to cut financial ties with his global business empire.
Kathleen Clark, a former ethics lawyer for the District of Columbia, said that while not illegal or even unusual for Trump, it’s a bold example of self-dealing that deeply concerns some Americans.
“It’s another example of him trying to get a twofer, promoting his brand through his campaign or his government work,” she said.
Norman Eisen, who served as President Barack Obama’s lead ethics attorney, said Trump is “becoming more and more brazen in his efforts to monetize the presidency.”
Eisen is suing Trump for violating a clause of the Constitution that prohibits foreign gifts and payments; Trump and the Justice Department have called such lawsuits baseless.
Trump has commingled business and politics right from the June 2015 day he glided down an escalator at Trump Tower in New York City to announce his candidacy.
Ethics experts say his continued appearances at his own for-profit properties – he’s visited such locations 37 times as president, according to an Associated Press tally – double as a form of advertising that inappropriately enriches him.
The annual financial disclosure Trump filed last week shows that Mar-a-Lago, the Florida resort he visited on seven weekends this winter, saw a revenue bump to $37 million from $30 million during the period covered in his previous filing.
The Washington hotel opened in October, and Trump reported $20 million in income from the property.
Throughout the 2016 presidential race, Trump’s campaign account cycled about $8 million into his businesses. At the same time, he contributed more than $66 million out of his own pocket over the course of the primary and general election campaigns.
So far, Trump’s re-election campaign is raising money exclusively from other donors.
He officially kicked off his 2020 bid on Inauguration Day by filing Federal Election Commission paperwork, making it the earliest such effort by a sitting president.
It’s paying off: The campaign raised more than $7 million by the end of March from appeals to small donors and the sale of merchandise such as the ubiquitous red “Make America Great Again” ball caps.
The money helps pay for political rallies. He’s held five of them since becoming president, including one Wednesday night in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The fundraiser next week is aimed at high-dollar donors. His campaign and the Republican National Committee will share proceeds.
Trump himself foreshadowed the choice of location last week in a text message to supporters. Trying to encourage small donors to participate in a drawing to gain admittance, the campaign wrote, in the voice of Trump: “Do not worry about a thing. We will fly you to DC, we will take a picture together, and you will stay at a beautiful hotel. BIG LEAGUE.”
He and his supporters have referred to the Trump hotel as “beautiful.” The Trump Organization completed a $200 million renovation of the government property weeks before Election Day.
With the General Services Administration as his landlord – and the president as the GSA’s ultimate boss – Trump has tried to distance himself from the property’s finances. Government watchdogs have argued that the steps he’s taken fall short of avoiding potential conflicts of interest.
Under a restructuring outlined in letters between the Trump Organization and the GSA, profits from the hotel will go to an account of the corporate entity that holds the lease, Trump Old Post Office LLC.
The letters do not address what might happen to any profits from the hotel after Trump leaves office, or whether they will be transferred to Trump at that time.