This is how Donald Trump leveraged his business empire and political career to make millions of dollars

President's personal businesses have made $23m from political groups — including his own campaign — since 2015

Griffin Connolly
Thursday 27 August 2020 14:31 BST
Donald Trump Jr says Joe Biden is 'Loch Ness monster of the swamp' at RNC

Donald Trump's presidential campaign has lined the candidate's personal pockets to the tune of $2.3m since he took office, using the money the campaign has raised from major GOP donors and hundreds of thousands of individual Trump supporters to pay off the campaign's lodging, food and rent bills at the president's hotels, resorts and business spaces.

The president's campaign committee, Donald J Trump for President, for instance, is spending $37,542 per month each month to operate out of Trump Tower in New York, Federal Election Commission records show.

On 27 July, the campaign paid the Trump Corporation $4,917 for "legal and IT consulting".

Trump Restaurants LLC has been pulling in $3,000 per month for rental fees recently.

And then there's this whopper: over just two days in March and April, the campaign reported $380,000 in payments to the Trump Hotel Collection, which the campaign told David Farenthold of The Washington Post was for a week-long "donor retreat" at the president's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., in early March.

Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia, a senior member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has been sounding alarms for years about how Mr Trump has leveraged the looseness of campaign finance regulations to enrich his own companies.

"Donald Trump treats both his campaign and the federal government like his own personal piggy banks," Mr Connolly said in a statement to The Independent.

"If he's not spending millions of taxpayer dollars and campaign donations at his own properties in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the US Constitution, he's interfering with the relocation of the FBI Headquarters to protect his DC hotel," Mr Connolly said, referring to the president's insistence since taking office that the FBI renovate its headquarters on its existing site across the street from the president's flagship hotel in Washington, instead of moving the bureau's operations to Maryland or Virginia.

Keeping FBI headquarters at the current location and renovating the J Edgar Hoover Building in which the bureau operates would benefit Mr Trump's hotel in at least two ways: it would improve the view for his guests, and block other hoteliers from purchasing the land and developing a property that competes with the Trump Hotel.

Mr Trump has nominally turned over day-to-day operations of his businesses to his sons Donald Jr and Eric, though he still retains ownership.

A senior Trump aide with knowledge of the campaign's financial arrangements told The Independent in a statement that they break no laws.

“The campaign complies with all campaign finance laws and FEC regulations," the aide said. "The campaign pays fair market value under negotiated rental agreements and other service agreements in compliance with the law" and "works closely with campaign counsel to ensure strict compliance in this regard.”

A spokesperson for the Trump Organisation could not immediately be reached for comment for this story.

Mr Trump, who misleadingly billed his campaign in 2016 as completely self-financed (it wasn't), has not contributed any of his own money to his 2020 campaign.

On the contrary, the various political funds he is associated with — his own campaign, the Trump Victory fund, and others — have spent nearly $4.6m at Trump properties and on Trump consulting fees over the last three and a half years, a review of data compiled by the Centre for Responsive Politics' website reveals.

Overall, Trump's businesses have raked in more than $9.1m in revenue over that time period from political groups and candidates, virtually all Republican.

That's less than the $13.2m Trump businesses were paid by political entities during the absurdly profitable 2015-16 presidential campaign cycle, but it dwarfs the president's politically sourced revenues from before he launched his political career in the 2016 Republican primaries.

During the 2013-14 midterm cycle, for instance, Trump businesses pulled in just $35,496 in political receipts, a contrast that shows how staggeringly lucrative winning the GOP nomination — and presidency — has been for Mr Trump and his family business operation.

As Mr Connolly and other Democratic lawmakers have pointed out, it's not just campaign donations from Republicans that have been funnelled into the president's personal coffers: House Democrats are probing reports, first brought to public attention by the Post in February, that Mr Trump's properties charged the US government exorbitant fees — as much as $650 per night — to lodge US Secret Service agents whenever the president stays at one of his hotels.

"The payment of rates far above government rates and the Trump Administration’s lack of transparency raise serious concerns about the use of taxpayer dollars and raise questions about government spending at other Trump properties,” Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney and Democratic member Jackie Speier said in a joint statement in February accompanying a demand that the Secret Service produce documents to the committee.

Last year, the president was publicly pushing for the US to host the 2020 G7 Summit at his resort in Doral, Florida, which would have provided a boon to his personal business.

He later backed away from that proposal, and planners eventually settled on Camp David, the retreat centre in Maryland used by US presidents for decades.

The 2020 G7, however, will be held via videoconference to reduce exposure to Covid-19.

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