Since the November 2016 election, Republican campaigns and campaign committees have spent more than $1.7 million at properties or companies owned by President Donald Trump, a review of campaign finance records show.
That total almost certainly understates the actual amount as Federal Election Commission data is notoriously incomplete. At least one expenditure was found in FEC filings but not in an indexed search of those filings used to compile total expenditures. But even at $1,741,641, ethicists say the money—spent on everything from meals to parking tickets, lodging to legal consultation—raises flags.
“Presidents have traditionally divested their assets and placed the proceeds in a blind trust or Treasury Bills or the like to avoid the appearance of (a) conflict of interest,” said Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, in an email. “By holding on to his properties, President Trump profits when campaigns rent them out. In doing so, he raises the question of whether a candidate can buy influence with him by patronizing his properties.”
Never before in American history has a president had as many clear and open financial interests as Trump does now. And though he has said there is a line of demarcation between his public service and his private holdings, it is clear even without having seen his tax returns that the two worlds often co-mingle. Trump’s re-election campaign, for example, has been the biggest spender of all at Trump properties and companies, having dropped nearly $1.3 million since Trump’s election. That amounts to one out of every 11 dollars that the campaign has spent to date.
But Trump properties, most notably his Trump International Hotel in Washington, have also drawn the patronage of the Republican Party itself and a number of GOP congressional campaigns. The Republican National Committee has disclosed more than 20 expenditures, for a total of more than $300,000, since the election at Trump properties in D.C., New York, Las Vegas, and Florida. Campaigns and committees alone have spent more than $42,000 at the steakhouse inside the hotel, BLT Prime.
Though Trump’s D.C. hotel has become a locus of political power since January, attracting everyone from Cabinet secretaries to foreign dignitaries, Republican groups around the country have increasingly looked to other Trump properties for fundraising events and campaign lodging.
When Kansas Rep. Roger Marshall made a swing through Chicago in May, he stayed at the Trump hotel in Chicago. Florida Rep. Tom Rooney stayed at the same hotel in September. And Omar Navarro, the long shot GOP challenger to California Rep. Maxine Waters, will attend a fundraiser on Thursday featuring former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio at the Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles. It will be Navarro’s second fundraising event at the club.
Outside of the world of politics, Trump properties have not been so fortunate. A number of charities and sports teams, leery of the controversy the president’s name attracts, have canceled plans to patronize the businesses run since January by his two eldest sons.
Trump himself has done his part to pick up the slack, occasionally steering fellow Republicans to his properties when appearing outside of Washington with them. The president hosted a fundraiser for Rep.Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), at his club in Bedminster. Tickets started at $5,400 per couple and included a $25,000 ticket to “co-host” and a $100,000 ticket for “hosts.” The funds went to both MacArthur and Trump. The cost to rent the facility and cater the event was $15,221.10.
But spending at Trump’s properties doesn’t always buy you his love. Sen. Bob Corker’s 2018 re-election committee spent $1,051.80 on lodging at the Trump Hotel in D.C. this January. Trump encouraged the senator to run repeatedly. But when Corker decided not to, the president ripped him.
“Senator Bob Corker ‘begged’ me to endorse him for re-election in Tennessee,” Trump wrote in a pair of tweets. “I said ‘NO’ and he dropped out (said he could not win without… my endorsement). He also wanted to be Secretary of State, I said ‘NO THANKS.’ He is also largely responsible for the horrendous Iran Deal!”
And occasionally, Trump’s opponents have helped his bottom line in the service of attempts to humiliate him. American Bridge, the Democratic oppo research firm, spent $731.36 at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. in November 2016, apparently for documenting the foreign-made goods throughout the rooms and the facility.