Donald Trump's 2020 campaign has already funneled $1.3 million to his businesses

Trump's campaign has made a number of unexplained payments to his businesses. His lawyers say it's all fine

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published March 22, 2019 5:35PM (EDT)

Donald Trump; Ivanka Trump   (Getty/Olivier Douliery/Sean Gallup/Scott Olson/Photo montage by Salon)
Donald Trump; Ivanka Trump (Getty/Olivier Douliery/Sean Gallup/Scott Olson/Photo montage by Salon)

President Trump’s re-election campaign has paid $1.3 million in donor money to his businesses since he took office, according to an analysis by Forbes.

According to the report, Trump’s companies have charged his campaign $1.3 million for rent, lodging, food and other expenses. While Trump self-funded part of his campaign in 2016, none of the more than $50 million in contributions to his re-election campaign have come out of his own pocket.

The campaign has paid more than $800,000 to Trump Tower Commercial LLC, a holding company through which the president owns his stake in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. The Republican National Committee has paid an additional $225,000 to the holding company for rent.

Trump’s campaign has also paid $54,000 to Trump Plaza LLC, the holding company that controls two apartment buildings in New York. Forbes noted that reporters could not identify any campaign operation at the building. Six residents told the outlet they had never seen an indication that a campaign was running out of the building. A front desk employee said, “If there was any kind of office rented out for campaigning or whatever, I would know about it.”

The campaign also paid $60,000 to Trump Restaurants LLC, another holding company linked to Trump Tower. It’s unclear what that money was used for. It may have been spent on a kiosk in Trump Tower that sells merchandise bearing the stamp, “Paid for by Donald J. Trump for President, Inc,” though Forbes notes that $60,000 in rent would make it among the highest retail rates in the city at $600 per square foot. By comparison, Gucci’s prime Fifth Avenue location pays around $440 a square foot.

The campaign expenditures are just one of the ways Trump’s presidency has been a boon for his companies. Trump spent more than $13 million in campaign funds on chartering planes from the Trump-owned TAG Air, ProPublica reported last year. His Washington hotel has drawn a number of foreign groups and corporations seeking to curry favor with his administration by buying up dozens of rooms. Republicans have repeatedly hosted fundraisers at his property.

All of these issues are at the heart of multiple lawsuits accusing Trump of violating the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, which bars government officials from using their position to enrich themselves.

A Justice Department lawyer for the federal government insisted in court this week that the case “should be over” because “the president is unique,” the New York Times reported.

“He is not any old inferior officer like the postmaster general. They can’t point to any basis in either case law or history to subject the president of the United States” to such demands, said deputy assistant attorney general Hashim Mooppan.

Experts have long said that the lawsuits face an uphill climb and the Times noted that the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Virginia was skeptical of the claims against Trump.

Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe admitted that the emoluments case against the president is a tough one to win in court but added that a loss could set a dangerous standard.

“It would be extremely unfortunate,” he told the Washington Post, “if violations of the most important constitutional protection against a dangerously corrupt and compromised president — the protection of the Emoluments Clauses against presidential acceptance of financial benefits from foreign powers or others unaccountable to the US electorate — could never be enforced by the independent federal judiciary because the ‘only’ harm that federal courts would recognize would be demonstrable harm to particular individuals rather than harm to the nation as a whole.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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