It didn’t take long for Donald Trump to begin using the presidency for profit. Even before he was sworn in, his eldest sons were travelling the globe flanked with Secret Service details that doubled as sales props for the family business. His wife, Melania, has remained behind in New York City, a decision that means the U.S. government is now almost certainly a paying tenant in a building owned by the president. His White House advisers have served as TV pitch-people for Trump-branded products on more than one occasion. And all the while, Trump himself has used every free moment he has—and some he doesn’t—to raise the profile of his family’s real estate portfolio, from his hotel in Washington, D.C., to his private club in Palm Beach, Florida.
But while it’s important to keep an eye on the long con Trump is playing, let’s not forget about the more straightforward grift he has been running ever since he first stepped off a Trump Tower escalator and onto the main political stage nearly two years ago. Via the Wall Street Journal:
The new reports, filed late Friday with the Federal Election Commission, showed that Mr. Trump’s campaign directed more than 6% of the $6.3 million it spent in the first three months of 2017 to the president’s companies, including $274,013 in rent to Trump Tower, $58,685 for lodging to the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., and $13,828 for facility rental and catering to the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas.
This is just more of the same from Candidate Trump. During the 2016 election, his campaign and the Republican National Committee combined to send more than $14 million to Trump family-owned businesses and to reimburse the Trump family for travel. The latest FEC filings suggests the president has no intention of giving up the lucrative revenue stream for his family even now that he’s found other streams to tap from within the White House.
Trump has basically been fundraising non-stop since the summer of 2015. He held a series of victory-lap rallies in between winning the election and being sworn in, filed for reelection on Inauguration Day, and then returned to the campaign trail less than a month after taking office. All the while, his campaign has been bombarding supporters with fundraising emails. (For comparison, President Obama waited roughly two years before filing his FEC paperwork. He was still able to earn contributions on the big-dollar fundraising circuit at the start of his term, but his solicitations to small donors and fundraising efforts as a whole were more limited and less conspicuous than Trump’s.) By the Journal’s count, the Trump campaign brought in about $3.3 million over the first three months of 2017, nearly triple what Obama’s raised during the first quarter of his first term. Meanwhile, the Trump-led RNC brought in more than $41 million over that same time, more than double what the Obama-led Democratic National Committee saw in the first quarter of 2009.
More money means more opportunities for Trump to spread the wealth around among his inner circle. In addition to sending campaign cash to Trump companies, he also continues to cut checks to those owned by his friends. During the election, Trump’s highest-paid vendor was a web-marketing firm owned by Brad Parscale, his campaign’s digital director. The Trump campaign paid Parscale’s firm $73 million during the course of the campaign, and another $1.5 million during the first quarter of this year while Parscale was working for an outside group aligned with the president. Several Trump allies with official positions inside the White House saw payouts of their own this year. A company owned by Steve Bannon, for example, received nearly $30,000 for administrative work last quarter, and one founded by White House social media director Dan Scavino received $14,500 in consulting fees.
Trump made a big show of stepping down from the day-to-day operations of his businesses before Inauguration Day, but any firewall between him and the company that bears his name is nothing but a façade. The president may no longer have formal job responsibilities at the Trump Organization but he still retains the most important title there: owner. The line between Trump the businessman and Trump the candidate, meanwhile, may be even straighter.