If Trump Can't Profit Off Campaign Contributions, The Terrorists Will Win
By now, it's no longer a surprise that Donald Trump has done everything possible to monetize his presidency; after all, he's been steering cash to his own businesses since his 2016 campaign. But the reporting can still be shocking, especially when we dimly remember the long-ago times when US presidents didn't do that. (Sure, there was Nixon's veep, Spiro Agnew, who literally accepted envelopes of bribe money delivered to the White House. But he also lost his job for it.) So yes, we were definitely shocked, if not all that surprised, by the completely brazen self-dealing documented in yesterday's Forbes story about all the campaign money that has gone to Trump businesses. Remember when people were saying Trump was uncorruptible because he was already rich and would pay for his own campaign? Wasn't true in 2015-16, and he's not even pretending this time around.
At least it makes for an arresting lede, even if it's unlikely to make for any actual arrests:
Donald Trump has not given a dime to his reelection campaign, opting instead to fund the entire effort with his donors' money. His business, meanwhile, has continued to charge the campaign for things like food, lodging and rent. The result is that $2.2 million of contributions from other people has turned into $2.2 million of revenue for Trump.
As reporters Dan Alexander and Michela Tindera explain, that's just the revenue from the official campaign. Add in spending from the two joint campaign committees that coordinate GOP-Trump fundraising ("Trump Victory" and the "Trump Make America Great Again Committee") and spending by the Republican National Committee, and the total comes to $6.9 million. Mind you, that's just the total for campaign spending by those entities; for this piece at least, Alexander and Tindera don't try to chase down all the industry groups or weirdass political "nonprofits" like Americans For Prosperous Freedom Liberty America that also pump money into the Trumpoplex. Trump's self-enrichment has been Dan Alexander's beat for some time now, so he and Tindera will no doubt look at that stuff at some point, too.
And what a glorious banquet of campaign spending it is! For just one example, look at Trump National Doral, the Miami golf resort that's perfect for all occasions, including a G7 Summit if you can get away with it (Oops, you can't). Even without putting the squeeze on foreign leaders, Trump's political operation has managed to turn around the resort's fortunes:
In 2017, Trump's first year leading the country, revenues at Doral dropped from $88 million to $75 million, dragging profits (measured as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) down from $12.4 million to just $4.3 million. The next year, the RNC, which had spent just $3,000 at the property in 2017, upped its expenditures to $603,000. That helped give a slight boost to the business, which recorded 2018 profits of $9.7 million, according to a spokesperson for the Trump Organization.
Two years later, the RNC is now a well-established customer at the resort, having spent $255,000 there in 2019 and another $510,000 in January. The latter payments provided a nice jolt to the place shortly before the coronavirus crisis shut it down. In total, Doral has done $1.4 million worth of business with the RNC since Trump took office.
Or take Trump Tower — please! Whatever trouble the Trump Organization may have had finding tenants, at least Trump's reelection campaign has been a steady renter, at $38,000 a month for office space. (Hey, kids, remember how Trump filed reelection paperwork like seven words into his American Carnage inaugural speech?) Over the years, that's totaled $1.5 million all on its own.
And on goes the campaign spending, in amounts ranging from relatively teensy ("$500 to Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County, New York") to yooge: $900,000 at Trump's Washington hotel, $1.7 million for the various Trump hotels around New York, for a total of "$2.6 million for Trump's hotels, not counting the money that has gone to his Miami golf resort."
If there's a chance to make a few pence (ha! ha!) off the smallest transaction, Trump's businesses are there to help: "There's more. The campaign paid Trump companies for legal consulting, IT expenses, airfare, even office supplies."
Weirdly, the thoroughness of the grift (which the spokespeople always insist is perfectly legal, because normal market rates) almost supports the claim we've heard over and over: Such a successful "business" must surely mean Trump has the management skills to run a country well. Unfortunately, his (or his accountants') eye for detail seems limited solely to making sure he gets a taste of any money that's moving around. Crap like international relations (other than hitting up an ally to steer the British Open to his golf course) or how to fight a pandemic are simply not worth bothering with.
We suppose there's a certain low cunning to the Trump schemes, since so far he's managed to avoid the fate of a common Duncan Hunter, who is no longer vaping in Congress because he converted campaign funds the wrong way, and got caught.
And remember, all this is just the campaign grifting, and doesn't include stuff like Trump's regular shakedowns of the Secret Service or the military jets being rerouted to refuel at the airport near his golf resort in Scotland, or the Saudis finally helping his hotels turn a profit.
The Forbes piece closes with an almost audible sigh of irritation:
Forbes first reported on this practice in late 2018, and again in early 2020. What does the president's team say about all of this? Not much. When asked about these sorts of payments in the past, representatives have issued statements insisting that the campaign had paid fair market value under negotiated rental agreements and other service agreements in compliance with the law.
After the piece ran, we're told, an anonymous RNC official sent a statement saying that people just like Donald Trump's properties a lot, that's all, and these are really great spots for doing campaign stuff. So let's not get our hopes up about anyone in the GOP lifting a finger to do anything but order more room service.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.