A House Republican freshman and steadfast ally of President Donald Trump has introduced legislation that would inadvertently ban the president’s reelection campaign from spending money at Trump-owned businesses.
It’s almost certain that Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) did not intend to prohibit the president from steering campaign funds to his own hotels, resorts, and golf clubs. He introduced a bill this month explicitly designed to target campaign spending by a House colleague, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). Steube even appears to have taken steps to insulate the president from his bill’s prohibitions. But the language of his legislation would very likely bar Trump campaign payments to Trump businesses as well, and his office could not muster an explanation otherwise.
Steube’s legislation, which was introduced on May 1, is called the Obstructing Monetary Allocations to Relatives Act, or OMAR Act, a not-at-all-subtle shot at Omar, who has steered nearly $600,000 since 2018 to a company owned by political consultant Timothy Mynett, whose ex-wife said in divorce filings in early 2019 that he had admitted to carrying on an affair with Omar.
The bill prohibits any campaign payment “to a vendor which is owned or controlled by an immediate family member of the candidate,” which it defines as “a father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, husband, wife, father-in-law, or mother-in-law.” A company is considered to be “controlled” by a candidate’s family member if that family member “is a member of the board of directors or similar governing body of the vendor.”
Mynett and Omar married in March, about six months after the National Legal and Policy Center, a right-leaning nonprofit group, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that the payments to Mynett’s firm violated prohibitions on the personal use of campaign funds. Omar’s attorney called the allegations “absolutely false, and completely unfounded.”
“Rep. Omar has a history of FEC violations and is clearly using her position in Congress to increase her personal wealth,” said Steube spokesperson Carson Steelman in an email, “much like President Obama and the Clintons.”
The language of Steube’s bill is very similar to that of legislation introduced last year—and in each of the previous two congressional sessions—by Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA). But that bill, the Campaign Spending Integrity Act, extends the prohibition to vendors owned or run by the candidate himself or herself. Steube’s version of the legislation conspicuously excludes candidates themselves from the list of vendor owners and operators that would trigger the bill’s prohibitions. In other words, under Steube’s legislation Trump could theoretically spend the campaign money he raises at properties he owns.
For that reason, in emails with The Daily Beast, Steelman repeatedly defended Trump campaign spending at businesses owned by the president, who has steered millions in campaign funds to his own properties since 2015. Steelman also refused to acknowledge whether the bill would, in fact, prohibit that spending.
Nonetheless, Steube’s bill runs into real world problems when it comes to the president’s actual business and political entanglements. Upon taking office in 2017, Trump publicly insisted he had turned over all operations to his two adult sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., who remain the top two executives at the privately held company. That means the Trump Organization is, under the terms of Steube’s bill, “controlled” by immediate family members of the candidate, and therefore that the Trump campaign would be prohibited from spending money at Trump properties.
The Trump campaign has reported spending about $11.5 million at Trump-owned properties since 2015, according to FEC data analyzed by ProPublica. Those disbursements have paid for campaign office space and utilities, venues for fundraising events and rallies, and even legal services.
“You’re talking about two different things. President Trump is not enriching himself by being in government, he is actually diminishing his wealth,” Steelman told The Daily Beast of those expenses. Steube’s bill “has nothing to do with President Trump, but instead with Members of Congress who may attempt to exploit campaign finance loopholes.”
But Steelman repeatedly declined to explicitly address questions about whether the legislation would, in fact, bar such Trump campaign spending.
She also would not address why Steube decided to narrow the range of family members covered by his legislation. Ruiz’s version of the bill extends its prohibitions to sons- and daughters-in-law and brothers- and sisters-in-law, but those categories were not included in Steube’s OMAR Act.
Steube has only been in Congress since last year, but has already established himself as an unwavering Trump ally. He earned a shoutout from the president during a press conference in early 2019, when Trump dubbed him “a young, new congressman who has done really well.” And Steube leapt to Trump’s defense during this year’s impeachment trial, which provided fodder for a host of ads for his reelection campaign.
Steube’s political brand is also distinctly Trumpy.
“I speak my mind, I’m not politically correct and I do what I say I’m going to do,” recent campaign ads on his Facebook page declare. “What do you think of that?”