Broken Promises

How Trump Is Profiting Off the Presidency and Empowering Lobbyists and Big Donors

“The President Can’t Have a Conflict”

Trump offered a plan to deal with his business empire that fell far short of the standards set by other presidents and suggested by ethics experts. So far, he has not delivered on the promises offered by this already-weak plan.

  • Trump mentioned his Scottish golf course in a press conference. In a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May, his first such event as president with another world leader, Trump mentioned his Scottish golf course, Trump Turnberry. “And I happened to be in Scotland at Turnberry cutting a ribbon when Brexit happened and we had a vast amount of press there,” he said. Back in November, he reportedly urged a prominent British politician to do something about the wind farms impacting the course.
  • Trump’s Muslim ban excluded countries where he has business interests. The night Trump announced his immoral seven-country Muslim ban, Bloomberg News noted something interesting: “His proposed list doesn’t include Muslim-majority countries where his Trump Organization has done business or pursued potential deals.” After courts ruled against his initial ban, the White House released a revised one that also omitted those countries.
  • Trump’s business managers schmooze with Senators at Supreme Court announcement. When Trump announced his choice for the Supreme Court, the Trump Organization’s business managers–his sons–were in the audience at the White House talking with U.S. Senators, policymakers who could laws or roll back regulations that could directly benefit his companies. As Talking Points Memo pointed out, “Their appearance served as a reminder that the dividing line between the Trumps’ political and financial interests is far from clear.”
  • Trump used the National Prayer Breakfast to publicly pray for ratings for a show he has a financial stake in. At the National Prayer Breakfast, a solemn annual event in Washington, D.C., Trump used his speech to pray for better ratings for the Apprentice, a show for which he has an executive producer credit, meaning he makes money off the show and may make more money if the show does better. “And I want to just pray for Arnold, if we can, for those ratings, OK,” Trump said.
  • Trump’s Wall Street policies could benefit his company’s bottom line. Trump announced his plans to roll back the Dodd-Frank reforms aimed at preventing a repeat of actions on Wall Street that led to the 2008 collapse. “I have so many people, friends of mine, that have nice businesses, they can’t borrow money,” he said when announcing the effort. But, it’s not just his friends: deregulating Wall Street could also help him. Banks who’ll benefit from deregulation hold a lot of Trump’s debt and could look more kindly at him for repealing Dodd-Frank. But also, as George W. Bush’s ethics czar Richard Painter points out, “Deregulation is likely to lead to a bubble in the real estate market, as it has in the past. That ups the value of his real estate holdings, which the Trump Organization could then sell at the top of the market.”
  • Melania Trump’s lawyer said her husband’s presidency is a good opportunity to build her brand and make money. In a lawsuit filed against a news organization, an attorney for Trump’s wife Melania argued that defamation by the news outlet would prevent her from cashing in on the presidency. Specifically, the lawsuit stated, “Plaintiff had the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as an extremely famous and well-known person…to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multi-million dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world.” After this received attention, the lawsuit was updated to remove that line.
  • Trump bullied an American company for dropping his daughter’s clothing line. After retailer giant Nordstrom announced it would stop carrying Ivanka Trump merchandise due to poor sales, Trump tweeted an attack on the company: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!” By doing so, Trump demonstrated that if you hurt his family’s businesses he won’t shy away from using his position as president to attack you in retribution. And, in case that wasn’t clear enough, he retweeted the message from the official account of the president–@POTUS. Sales of Ivanka’s clothing line hit record heights since this incident.
  • A top adviser to the President violated ethics rules by promoting Ivanka Trump’s clothing line. White House employee Kellyanne Conway said during a Fox News interview in the White House Briefing room, “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff, is what I would tell you”…”I’m going to give it a free commercial here, go buy it today.” This led to letters of concern from both the Office of Government Ethics and the House Oversight Committee that Conway violated ethics rules by using her official position to promote the brand. After it was clear Conway would go unpunished, the OGE wrote another letter stating, “Not taking disciplinary action against a senior official under such circumstances risks undermining the ethics program.” It harms the public’s faith in elected officials and serves as a sign to other staff that violating the rules won’t be cause for punishment.
  • Ivanka Trump joins her husband, Jared Kushner, as White House advisers while maintaining stakes in their vast business enterprises. Both Ivanka Trump and Kushner have divested some of their financial conflicts of interest, but both have also decided to keep ownership of much of their business enterprises, and turn other business investments over to close family members to control rather than follow the model of placing these investments in a genuine blind trust run by independent executors. They claim as White House officials the conflicts of interest laws do not apply as they do to employees of government agencies.
  • Kuwaiti Embassy event raises questions about foreign bribery clause violations. Late last year, the Kuwaiti Embassy announced it would move its annual National Day celebration to Trump’s D.C. hotel–after canceling its reservation at another hotel in the city–raising questions as to whether it was a way for the country to curry favor with Trump’s administration. Whether the move was designed to buy influence is just one question raised by the event. As ethics expert Norm Eisen tells NPR, it could also violate the foreign bribery clause of the constitution that prohibits presidents from accepting gifts from foreign governments.
  • Trump’s rollback of environmental protections will benefit his golf courses. The same day Trump delivered a speech before a joint session of Congress in which he pledged to “promote clean air and clean water,” he issued an executive order to rescind and rewrite a clean water regulation that would also benefit his many golf courses. In fact, the golfing trade association that lobbied against the rule “includes more than 20 Trump employees.”
  • Trump has visited his properties every weekend of his presidency, offering invaluable free advertising to these businesses. Trump has spent five weekends at Mar-a-Lago, golfed at Trump International in Palm Beach, had dinner at the steakhouse at his hotel in D.C., and spent a Saturday at his Virginia golf course, holding a “cabinet meeting” in the club’s dining room. One weekend at Mar-a-Lago, he rewarded long-time club members with access to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. According to CNN, Trump made Abe talk with some newlyweds at the resort. He said, “They’ve been members of this club for a long time. They’ve paid me a fortune.” One weekend, he crashed the wedding of a super PAC donor’s son and on another, his Attorney General greeted guests at a fundraiser being hosted there. This past weekend, Vice President Mike Pence was spotted on Instagram at Mar-a-Lago with Trump donor Nick Loeb. Though Mar-a-Lago raised its membership rates to $200,000 this year, there’s no disclosure of the lobbyists, corporate CEOs, or others who get access to the president and his team while at the resort. Trump’s visit to his hotel in D.C. has already spurred a lawsuit by local wine bar owners, alleging his affiliation with the property puts other area restaurateurs at a disadvantage.
  • A fight over trademarks of Trump’s name in China was suddenly settled weeks after his inauguration. The application to register Trump’s name in China was finally approved just weeks after Trump took the oath of office, paving the way for the Trump Organization to develop branded businesses in the country. The news came just days after Trump asserted the U.S. government’s support for the “One China policy,” raising the question of whether the trademarks were approved as quid pro quo. As one intellectual property expert in Hong Kong noted, “For all these marks to sail through so quickly and cleanly, with no similar marks, no identical marks, no issues with specifications — boy, it’s weird.” The approval of these trademarks could also be seen as a violation of the emoluments clause of the constitution, which prohibits the president from receiving anything of value from foreign governments.
  • As the Trump administration backs off promise to have Mexico pay for the border wall, the country approves his trademarks. The Mexican Institute of Industrial Property granted the trademarks to the Trump Organization as his administration backs off a major promise of his campaign to have the country pay for the proposed wall along the border. The approval of these Trump trademarks and the business deals now available to the Trump Organization, which Trump maintains an ownership stake in, could also violate the emoluments clause.
  • A businesswoman with ties to Chinese intelligence just bought a penthouse from Trump. The “no new foreign deals” pledge shouldn’t be limited to licensing agreements or hotel expansions abroad, but any time he profits off new arrangements with people who aren’t American — especially if those people have ties to foreign intelligence agencies. Mother Jones reported recently that the woman who just paid $15.8 million for a penthouse in one of Trump’s buildings in New York City doesn’t just work for a consulting firm with the goal of linking U.S. businesses with Chinese powerbrokers, she also has ties to a front group for Chinese intelligence. He has another penthouse for sale too.

“Draining the swamp of government corruption.”

On the campaign trail, Trump presented himself as the candidate who would eliminate government corruption, claiming in speeches and social media posts that he would make government “honest” again, close loopholes that allow people to influence public policy without registering as a lobbyist, and “drain the swamp” of wealthy special interests. After Trump became president, his actions and personnel choices have disappointed government reform advocates and delighted the wealthy and corporate interests whose influence candidate Trump seemed determined to quash.

Conclusion

These broken promises on his businesses and the influence of lobbyists are part of the bigger picture of an administration clouded by corruption and conflicts. Trump has filled his administration with the same major donors, Wall Street executives, and special interest “puppets” he said he’d fight if elected.

Public Citizen

Public Citizen advocates for a healthier and more equitable world by making government work for the people and by defending democracy from corporate greed.

Public Citizen

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit advocacy org that has been standing up to corporate power and holding government accountable for 46 yrs.

Public Citizen

Public Citizen advocates for a healthier and more equitable world by making government work for the people and by defending democracy from corporate greed.