Donald Trump’s June Federal Election Commission campaign filing indicates that the Trump-for-president campaign is paying a lot of money to Donald Trump’s businesses, a fact that seems to square with the general notion that Trump is a serial scam artist. A number of observers have also noted that the candidate even seemed to be paying himself a salary:
As you can see, in addition to a number of reasonable-seeming disbursements to Trump staffers and the Trump Payroll Corp., there are several payments labeled “In-Kind: Payroll” made directly to Donald J. Trump at his home/work address of 725 Fifth Ave. (Trump Tower.) Previous filings show similar expenses. It’s not illegal for political candidates to pay themselves salaries, but it’s uncommon, and Trump claims to be a mega-rich rich guy who is so loaded with $$$ that he wouldn’t take a salary if elected president. So what’s the deal?
I contacted the staff at the OpenSecrets.org public-transparency nonprofit to try to figure it out, and although it’s hard to say with 100 percent certainty what’s going on without getting comment from the campaign, OpenSecrets.org senior researcher Doug Weber seems to have cracked the case. (I did email the campaign asking for comment, but they don’t generally respond to press inquiries.) I’ll let him explain, using an example from April:
I am open to other thoughts, but looking at the filings at the FEC (they start on page 1305 of Trump’s April filing), it looks like the campaign cuts Trump a check to pay for his company services which then shows up a second time as the itemized service.
E.g., on page 1305 there is $15,000 to Trump saying “In-kind: Rent (see memo below)” followed by $6,000 to Trump CPS LLC and $9,000 to Trump Plaza. The “payroll” seems to be the same thing. We see on page 1306 $2,536.33 to Trump as payroll followed by an identical $2,536.33 to Trump Tower Commercial LLC, described as payroll, followed by the same amount to a Keith Schiller. Not sure but I think that may mean all three items are the same expenditure.
So what I think is happening is that the Trump campaign is spending money on rental, goods and services from Trump companies and that money is showing up as passing through Donald Trump en route to the final recipient.
Lending credence to Weber’s explanation: The individuals whose payroll entries are listed after Donald Trump “In-Kind: Payroll” disbursements (Jason Greenblatt, Hope Hicks, etc.) are also employees of the Trump Organization, which is Trump’s main business. And it’s not unreasonable that the Trump Organization as an entity would be reimbursed, by the campaign, for the salaries of employees who are now spending all their time on campaign business.
If Weber’s analysis is correct, then, it doesn’t seem like the “In-Kind: Payroll” payments in and of themselves should be a scandal. Weber also notes that the bulk of the money the Trump campaign has spent so far has come from $45 million in loans that Trump has given it personally. On the other hand, Trump is raising outside money ($16 million of it so far) for the campaign fund too, and the campaign could very well end up paying him back all of the $45 million he’s loaned it. It’s still possible that he’ll come out of all of this in the black.