How to Eliminate Trump’s Business Conflicts of Interest
Donald Trump claims that the President is exempt from conflicts of interest. While he is correct about this, there are other factors determining the “right” course of action concerning his business ownership and operations. In Part One: WHY, I outline why Trump’s Conflicts of Interest need to be eliminated. If you already agree with this need, skip down to Part Two: HOW.
Part One: WHY
1. Donald Trump, on the campaign trail, promised to take the necessary steps to eliminate conflicts of interest. If he knew he was exempt from such conflicts, and planned to do nothing, he should have explained that as president, he would not need to eliminate conflicts of interest. In other words, he should have said that there were no steps that would need taking. Trump misled the public.
2. The term “interest” in business means ownership just as much if not more than it means managerial control. Removing himself from managing control has no effect on ownership interest. Trump’s attempt to make the public focus on his overseeing of operations is a shell game.
3. The United States Constitution forbids Presidents from receiving gifts (or “emoluments”) from foreign states (or domestic states…) Arguably, state dignitaries staying in Trump’s hotel would send a signal to Trump that these states seek favorable treatment by the president. This is a conflict of interest from which the president is not exempt. A group of watchdog constitutional scholars recently filed a lawsuit against Trump over this. However, it seems that there are two important counter-arguments. Of course Trump’s lawyers contend that the lawsuit has no merit. For more details and analysis, see the 39-page lawsuit as well as an excellent summary.
4. The Trump organization, in an effort to pretend to show good will around the emoluments issue, has promised to pay all “profits” from foreign dignitaries’ hotel bills to the United States Treasury. This is an empty promise. A master of creative accounting, Trump will make sure his DC hotel will never show a profit, and so no monies will be paid to the US Treasury. Furthermore, a well-timed news story shows that Trump’s DC hotel is already operating at a loss.
There are many more ways to explain WHY President Trump should not be making money by exploiting the celebrity of the presidency, but let us move along to HOW.
Part Two: HOW
Critics of Trump’s conflicts of interest have been focused on the wrong actor and the wrong action. Everybody is trying to convince or force President Trump to uncouple himself from his business interests. It is natural that legal reasoning produces legal remedies. Yet, we know that Trump loves to fight legal battles.
Usually, Trump has more money than his opponents, so he can wait out legal challenges and either win or walk away even. This time, the millions of Americans who believe strongly that Trump ought not make money from his hotels, have more money, and more consumer power than Donald Trump. As citizens, we marched, wrote, spoke, sang, and started to organize. As consumers, we can wipe Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest off the face of the earth. We cannot eliminate his conflicts of interest, but we can make his interests worth nothing.
Let us allow Donald Trump his ownership and control over all his business properties.
Let us turn Donald Trump’s business profits into business losses.
Let us call this movement Break the Brand.
Break the Brand is a collection of legal consumer actions performed by individuals, independently of one another. Break the Brand costs participants no money. Here are three strategies for breaking the Trump brand:
1- HOTEL STRATEGY: Thousands of people booking up all the Trump hotel rooms with fully refundable reservations. A few days prior to the start of each reservation, the reservation is cancelled with no cancellation fee. Result: Hotels appear fully booked, but must discount most rooms at the last minute.
2- RESTAURANT STRATEGY: Like the hotel strategy but simpler. Thousands make reservations at Trump Hotel restaurants. Restaurants will be fully booked, but nobody shows up for their reservation. This results in restaurants having what amounts to “no reservations/walk-in only” seating.
3- SHOPPING STRATEGY: As soon as new Ivanka Trump (or any Trump brand items) hit the racks, they are bought up, only to be returned a few weeks later. Garments will likely go on sale or to clearance outlets. Retailers will quickly tire of high return rates and stop carrying the brand.
There are plenty of details that make these three strategies more or less effective. These details appear below.
After the women’s march, people have been taking next steps. Most of these steps are purely political: writing letters, making calls, organizing, running for office. These are all great things, and in a better world, they would be enough. But Trump must be stopped using all the tools we have. We have “Grab Your Wallet,” the excellent boycott of all things Trump and all Trump-supporting businesses. However, not spending at all is not as fast or focused as spending aggressively and strategically.
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1- HOTEL STRATEGY- DETAILS
Book a room in Trump’s Washington, DC hotel. Book a couple of months in advance. For this strategy, you need a credit card with more than a few thousand dollars in revolving credit (revolving credit is also known as your credit limit.) If you do not have a credit card or an extra couple of thousand dollars in revolving credit, don’t worry, there are two other fun and effective strategies.
Make sure to book a FULLY REFUNDABLE room. This will cost more, but it does not matter because you will cancel the reservation and pay nothing. If the room must be cancelled 48 hours before check in, count backwards, and then give yourself an extra day or two, to make sure you are not charged. After you cancel through the website, call the hotel to verify that your reservation has been cancelled. Ask for the name of the person you speak to, and note the day and time. Then call your credit card company to verify that the room charge is no longer pending on your card. Ask for the name of the person you speak to, and note the day and time. That is the basic outline of the hotel strategy. For a fun explanatory video, watch this.
Here are some extra pointers in Q&A format:
At which hotel should I book a room? Any Trump hotel. For maximum effect, the new Washington, DC hotel would be a good choice.
How should I book my Trump hotel room? Best to book directly at the hotel website, not a third party booking website. Booking directly on the Trump hotels website minimizes the chance that a third party will charge your credit card or otherwise impose some conditions on you, like extra charges.
What kind of booking should I make? Make sure to book fully refundable room. Aside from that, the more nights the better, and the more expensive the room the better.
What do I do after I book the room? Note the date/time after which you would be charged a cancellation fee. Make sure to cancel before that date/time so that you are not charged the fee!
How do I know how many nights to book? Make sure to book a room for a price and duration that your revolving credit (the limit on your credit card) will allow, and make sure you still have enough credit for your necessary purchases. I have heard that it is best to never even use half your revolving credit, as using most of it could affect your credit score. I am not sure about this, so if you are concerned, look into it or participate in one of the other two strategies that do not require a credit card.
When should I book a room? Book a couple of months in advance. The longer you have the room booked, the fewer people will be able to book that room.
Does the night of the week matter? Yes! Best nights to book are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. After that, Friday and Saturday. Also, try to book during busy times, like festivals, holidays, etc.
What will this achieve? If all of the rooms at a Trump hotel are reserved for the dates a traveler wants to book a room there, that traveler will book a room at a different hotel. This is the basic idea. In order to book up a hotel’s inventory of rooms, we need many participants. The longer you have the booked, the fewer available rooms there will be. For example, let’s say that today is Jan. 23, 2017, and you book one room in a Trump hotel for the night of April. 25, 2017, and your cancellation policy says that you have 48 hours before 3 PM on check-in day to cancel without penalty. You will cancel your reservation on April 21 or 22 and incur no penalty. Do not think, “I am only reserving one room.” Think instead, “I am taking one room off the market for three months!” Trump cannot sell that room from under you.
What Kind of Participation Will Make a Difference? Think of the Jan. 21 marches all over the country. One person marching looks like one person going for a walk. A march is a lot of people going for a walk. Of the estimated four million people on the streets, in North America, what if just one percent of those participants booked a room for one night each. That is forty thousand booked rooms, or twenty-two weeks solid that every room in Trump’s DC hotel would be booked and cancelled a couple of days prior. Of course there are already rooms booked by other people, and not everybody will book just one night, and bookings can be for months and months in advance, so there are a lot of variables. But the potential for disrupting this business is enormous.
How Do We Know It’s Working? Look on the hotel website. See how many rooms are available, check back often and compare. Eventually, if this strategy is spread and implemented, Trump’s hotels will shut down.
2- RESTAURANT STRATEGY- DETAILS
All of Trump’s hotels have bars and restaurants in the lobbies. Make a reservation at the restaurant, or if possible the bar, and then…
Actually, that’s the whole thing. Of course you will not show up FOR your reservation. The point is to fill up the restaurant’s reservation book so that people staying in the hotel who want to patronize the restaurant cannot do so. The point is also to turn away people who try to make reservations.
You might be able to reserve a table online. Some of the Trump hotel restaurants use restaurant-booking websites. Some have phone numbers you can call to reserve by phone. Some have both. Do what is easiest for you. Do not leave a credit card for any reason. If you must leave a phone number, try looking up a Trump hotel in a different city from the hotel restaurant you are calling. For example, if you are making a reservation at the Washington, DC hotel restaurant, and you need to give a contact number, give the main hotel number for Trump’s hotel in Las Vegas. That way, when the DC restaurant calls to confirm your reservation, they will reach the Vegas hotel switchboard, and not know whether you are staying at that hotel, or were staying there when you reserved a table, or are staying there with somebody under a different name. So much uncertainty, it will be difficult for them to cancel your table reservation.
If you want to avoid the restaurant seeing your cell phone number, either call from a blocked number, or use a different phone. This is a simple strategy and can be used over and over, making sure Trump hotel restaurants become No Reservations establishments.
3- SHOPPING STRATEGY- DETAILS
There are many Trump brand products. We will focus on Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, although any Trump clothing or other branded items are also targets of this strategy. (Ivanka has declared a “separation” from her brand. How does a high profile first daughter who advertises her clothing line in political interviews, and whose business name and given name are THE SAME NAME, make that separation? Impossible.)
Go to a store that sells Ivanka Trump clothing. You might do this on your lunch hour, maybe with a friend. Have fun with it. Buy some clothing. I got $300 cash at the ATM and used over $250 to buy three clothing items. Do not panic, the money is laid out but it comes right back to you soon enough.
When you get home, take all of the clothing out of the bag. It was probably folded nicely. Unfold it and drop it back into the bag. Make sure the receipt is in the bag. Never open the bag again. In fact, close the bag tightly, put it on a chair and sit on it for a few days until it is good and wrinkled. Department stores do not have time to steam or iron returned clothes. They will most likely keep them off the sales floor for a while, until they have time to deal with them. Technically, by wrinkling the clothes, you did not damage them, but you made it harder for them to be sold.
The store will either put the returned clothes on sale, or send them back to Ivanka Trump for credit. (This depends on how the relationship between Ivanka and the retail store is structured. The store or Ivanka might send them to an outlet. It should be noted that Ivanka Trump clothing started showing up at Walmart for the first time after the Trump boycott got into gear. This strategy is more focused than a general boycott of a department store that carries thousands of brands including Trump brands. Although this strategy involves buying merchandise, 100% of the purchases will be returned.)
The point of buying the clothing is to simply take the clothing off the shelf and into your home. With less Trump clothing on the racks, shoppers will buy other brands.
If a store experiences healthy sales of a brand with returns of 10% on average, that is normal and the store will continue to carry the brand. If the same store suddenly experiences much higher sales of the brand but returns of perhaps 50%, with most of the returns being somewhat wrinkled, the store will decide fairly quickly that this brand is not profitable for them.
Imagine millions of dollars of brand new spring dresses bought up from American retail stores the week they arrive on the racks. Now imagine all of these dresses being returned three weeks later, mostly wrinkled. Stores cannot manage such stock swings. The cash fluctuations will not be fun for them either. Returns cut into retail profits. The retail store will, soon enough, discontinue carrying a brand that displays such chaotic performance. This focused strategy is attractive to the shopper because it makes a boycott unnecessary. It is also attractive to the retail store because in a very short time, the retail store will discontinue carrying the brand for purely economic reasons, without bowing to political pressure from one faction or another.
In late November, I purchased three pieces of black and pink Ivanka Trump holiday party apparel. I kept them for about three weeks. In the highly seasonal fashion business, holiday party outfits are called “perishable” items because by the third week in December, everybody has shopped for parties and the outfits have “gone bad” like rancid produce. I returned the clothing items in the middle of December. Back at the store, I found no items like the ones I returned that day. This means that either they sold out, or they had already been moved to the sale rack, or taken off the floor to be sent back to Ivanka Trump’s warehouse. Regardless, the clothes I took off the market for three weeks and then returned, ended up wrinkled and stranded behind the cash register, to be dealt with when the store was not so busy. I walked away with a full cash refund. It felt great. I made a difference, and you can too.