Trump accused of profiting from presidency by hiking up prices for New Year's Eve party

This year's event marks leader's first as President, with tickets running at $750

Ashley Parker,Lori Rozsa,Michelle Ye Hee Lee
Sunday 31 December 2017 17:22 GMT
Donald Trump’s private club Mar-a-Lago has seen its membership double since its owner was inaugurated
Donald Trump’s private club Mar-a-Lago has seen its membership double since its owner was inaugurated (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty)

President Donald Trump is set to ring in the New Year the same way he has for about two decades – at the lavish party he hosts at his private club here.

But this weekend’s gala at Mar-a-Lago, his first since becoming President, will be a little different: The security will be tighter. The crowds will probably be bigger. And the tickets will run $750 a guest, a hike from last year, according to members and guests.

Trump supporters said the extra hassle and cost will be worth it.

“It’s a very glam night. I think everyone is even more excited this year than last year, because then he was President-elect, he hadn’t been sworn in,” said Toni Holt Kramer, a member of the club and co-founder of the Trumpettes USA group. “Now he’s President, and he’s accomplished so much already.”

Membership applications at Mar-a-Lago surged after Mr Trump was elected, leading the club to double its initiation fee to $200,000 this year. As President, Mr Trump no longer runs his real estate and hotel business, but he continues to own Mar-a-Lago and his other properties.

Critics said the boost in prices for Sunday’s party and Mr Trump’s regular trips to Trump Organisation properties – this is the President’s 10th visit to Mar-a-Lago this year – show how he is using his position to promote his brand.

“The President continues to find ways to profit from public office, by exploiting the fact that there are people who will pay to spend time with him and to be seen with him,” said Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert at the Washington University School of Law in St Louis.

The White House and Trump Organisation officials did not respond to requests for comment. A woman who answered the phone at Mar-a-Lago declined to share details about the party with a non-member and said there was no press office to respond to enquiries.

For some, the New Year’s Eve bash at Mar-a-Lago is the highlight of the Palm Beach social season.

Hundreds of guests attend the red-carpet gala, which begins with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Dinner typically involves a four-course meal that ends with a signature dessert – the meringue-topped baked Alaska. One year, the menu was printed on white chocolate.

In 2010, singer Rod Stewart, talk show host Regis Philbin and a Tiger Woods impersonator showed up at the party. Afterward, Mr Trump told the Palm Beach Daily News: “People came up to me to say that the Rod Stewart and Regis impersonators were great but that the Tiger guy was so-so. I don’t think they realised Rod and Regis were the real ones.”

About 500 to 600 guests attended last year’s bash, according to guests. Then-President-elect Trump took the stage to make New Year’s remarks. Donald Trump Jr, whose birthday is New Year’s Eve, danced in a conga line, photos from the event show. Actors Sylvester Stallone and Fabio Lanzoni took photos with guests.

This year, the gala decor, which tended to lean towards the more garish side before Trump ran for president – Las Vegas showgirls, Moulin Rouge, Seventies disco theme – will be more muted, sophisticated and fitting for a president.

“There’s a more modern vibe than in the past,” said Steve Levine, co-owner of Jose Graterol Designs of Miami, which is handling the party decor for the fourth year.

This year’s theme is “modern fantasy garden”, with floral patterns and “metallic gold, silver and shades thereof”, he said. It’s a twist on last year’s “more traditional garden” theme, Mr Levine added.

The cover band Party on the Moon will play again, as it has since 2009. The band plays more than 100 songs over four-and-a-half hours, including rock, R&B and pop, said Dennis Smith, the band’s lead guitarist and manager.

“It’s very high-energy music, and people at Mar-a-Lago are really about having a good time. As soon as the doors open, people hit the dance floor,” he said.

This year’s event is expected to be bigger than last year’s, with a VIP area being built on top of the stage, according to an employee who helps out with events at the club.

Tickets cost $600 for members and $750 for guests, an increase from last year, as Politico first reported.

Ms Kramer said tickets this year may be hard to come by because members get first dibs.

“I expect most of the members will want to be there. It’s going to be fabulous,” she said, adding that Trump will “be the last one to leave the party, and the first one up in the morning, tweeting. Lucky for us, he doesn’t need a lot of sleep.”

Mar-a-Lago’s New Year’s Eve scene isn’t for everyone, especially as the party has grown bigger and become more high-profile. Billionaire developer Jeff Greene, a club member who has attended the New Year’s Eve event in the past, said he will host a party at one of his own venues this year, instead.

“I don’t like going out with a bunch of strangers,” Mr Greene said.

Plus, there are other, more exclusive parties in town – like the invitation-only bash thrown by the all-male group Palm Beach Coconuts, usually held at the Flagler Museum.

One longtime denizen of ritzy Palm Beach said Mar-a-Lago was considered new-money and gaudy compared with more venerable clubs in town.

“None of the right people will be there,” she said.

© Washington Post

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