Is It Illegal for a President to Make Money From Outside Business During His Tenure?
Vice President Mike Pence visited Dublin, Ireland last week to attend several meetings, but, confusingly, stayed at Trump’s hotel about 200 miles away . Just yesterday, the US Air Force was screened for overnight stays at Trump’s hotel in Scotland while refueling. And Trump himself recently proposed hosting the next G-7 summit at his hotel in Doral, Florida. “I have a lot of hotels all over the place and people use them because they are the best, ” Trump said in response to questions about Pence’s recent stay.
Cases like these have led Democrats to launch a broader investigation into President Trump, who personally benefited from his presidency, using his office to direct clients to his business. Thousands of foreign leaders, Republican members of Congress, lobbyists and political candidates, among others, have come to Trump’s property, according to a New York Times article published over the weekend. The Center for Responsive Politics analysis showed that they spent just under $ 19 million using Trump’s property, most of which came after Trump became president.
But is there any basic rule that would stop the president from making a profit during his term in office? And what are the Democrats in Congress doing to stop this?
What is the problem?
Since Trump became president, the Times writes, spending by foreign leaders, lobbyists and other Republican leaders on Trump’s property has skyrocketed; One consumer advocacy group, Public Citizen , estimates that political candidates and party organizations alone have spent at least $ 5.6 million on Trump’s real estate since January 2017, up from just $ 119,000 in the four years before his presidency.
Most of the disputes are related to the costs of foreign companies. In an obscure set of constitutional provisions known as the remuneration clause, the incumbent cannot accept any “gift” from any foreign party, such as payment of executives booking multiple hotel rooms or holding a convention at Trump Properties.
In addition, the remuneration clause prevents the president from accepting more or less of his salary, including from the federal or state governments, which raises serious concerns such as Pence’s stay in Ireland (paid from US tax dollars, which then goes directly into his pockets Trump Organization). However, it is technically not illegal for the President of the United States to continue to do business while in office, and in the past, presidents have acted under some sort of honor system (or ” blind trust “; the President is giving up the ability to act on or manage his trust in order to avoid conflicts of interest). Trump did not adhere to this honor system.
“He receives at least a million dollars a year from foreign governments living on his property,” Washington Post reporter David Farenthold told NPR . “And the mechanism for ensuring this is the federal courts, which have been acting very, very slowly, trying to sort of handle this completely new area of law that they really haven’t worked with before. The practical effect is that Trump gets away with it. “
Of course, this is separate, but largely due to Trump’s own expenses while living on his property. But at this point, and without public tax returns, we really don’t know how much he spends taxpayer money to enrich his business.
What happens next?
Three lawsuits have been filed against Trump that mention the reward clause; two were expelled, and one Democrats in Congress are still active.
However, inspired by Pence’s stay and the proposed venue for the G-7 summit, Democrats said they were now investigating both cases as a violation of the article. “The committee does not believe that US taxpayer funds should be used to personally enrich President Trump, his family and his companies,” Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, wrote in a letter to the White House. Meanwhile, in a statement , House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Trump’s property “a cesspool for corruption.”
If you want to take a deeper look at the Republican committees spending in Trump-properties, OpenSecrets tracks many of these payments; they also have an extensive roster of foreign leaders who have business ties to Trump and his estate.