When President Trump first took office, he presented a unique problem as a businessman president. Critics pointed out that Trump's enterprises could raise conflicts of interest throughout his presidency, given the potential that Trump, as the leader of the free world, could still profit from their operations. Now, a Politico report has found that Republicans have spent millions of dollars at Trump's resorts since he took office, once again raising questions about potential constitutional violations — especially because no such spending patterns existed before the man was president.
Trump owns a vast network of properties across the country. That includes 11 luxury hotels, 12 golf courses, and more in the United States alone. Before Trump took office, his businesses were largely ignored by Republicans, but all of that has now changed. According to story published Monday by Politico, a forthcoming report from consumer rights group Public Citizen found that political groups spent only a combined $69,000 at Trump businesses between 2012 and 2014.
That number skyrocketed after Trump announced his campaign run, with political spending topping $19 million since June 2015. At Trump's resorts and other properties, almost 200 campaigns and political groups — nearly all with a conservative lean — have spent more than $8 million since his election.
Those groups include conservative advocacy organizations, religious groups, and police organizations. Most alarmingly, though, Politico reports that at least 28 foreign governments have frequented Trump properties.
This report highlights a few major problems. First, the president isn't supposed to earn money from the U.S. government aside from his presidential salary. He additionally cannot profit from foreign governments unless the transactions were approved by Congress.
According to Politico, Democrats are already investigating an allegation that numerous groups, including one foreign government, tried to gain Trump's favor by booking rooms at his hotel without using them. House Oversight Committee member Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who chairs the subcommittee with jurisdiction over Trump's hotels in Washington, described the practice as "near raw bribery."
Another House panel, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is also probing the matter through one of its subcomittees that has jurisdiction over Trump's Washington hotel. "Donald Trump is violating the Constitution by accepting money from foreign governments, and by refusing to turn over key documents his administration is covering it up,” Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), the subcommittee's chairwoman, told Politico. “We’ve issued subpoenas in our investigation because we deserve to know the extent of President Trump’s lawlessness and corruption.”
In 2016, Trump said he would allow his kids to manage his businesses in order to avoid conflicts of interests, telling Fox News Sunday, "My executives will run it with my children. It's a big company. It's a great company. But I'm going to have nothing to do with management."
Trump did end up handing off his empire to his sons in January 2017. However, Walter Shaub, who served as the director of the Office of Government Ethics during Trump's first months in office, said that Trump's business plan didn't "meet the standards" of former presidents.
In a statement to Politico, the White House maintained that Trump isn't doing anything wrong because he's removed himself from the day-to-day operations of his business.
"As he announced in January 2017, President Donald Trump is not involved in the day-to-day operations of the Trump Organization and he does not take any action that benefits him personally,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said. “While House Democrats continue to spread false rumors in complete denial that the president was a successful businessman for decades, President Trump continues to keep his promises to the American people.”