Campaign Finance Report: Trump Does A Lot Of Mixing Business With Politics
There weren't many expenditures in Donald Trump's last campaign finance report. At least not compared to the typical presidential campaign.
What stood out: the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Trump's campaign steered to various Trump venues and companies: $423,372 to Trump's Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago. $29,715 to the Trump International Golf Club. $125,080 to Trump Restaurants.
Altogether, Trump's presidential campaign has steered more than $6 million to Trump interests and family members since it launched a year ago. That's according to the Associated Press, which combed through all the Federal Election Commission disclosures.
The total includes monthly $15,000 payments for the rental of campaign office space in Trump Tower, as well as millions of dollars for flights on Trump's airplanes and helicopter. There are also purchases of Trump Ice water, and rental costs from Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, to Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., to the Trump SoHo hotel in lower Manhattan.
"I don't think we've ever seen this before. Certainly at the presidential level we haven't seen it before," said Trevor Potter, a former FEC chairman and the president of the Campaign Legal Center, which tracks campaign finance rules. "Even wealthy candidates normally don't own the sorts of companies that would provide services to a campaign."
The FEC bars candidates from directly pocketing campaign contributions. And yet, Potter said, companies owned by candidates are barred from giving money to their bosses' political efforts. So if the Trump campaign is using Trump properties and services, it does have to pay Trump's companies.
The FEC also requires campaigns to pay a fair market value for office space or equipment that's owned by the candidate.
What's the fair market value of a night in the Mar-a-Lago ballroom? The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment on how it determined those values.
Still, when you're paying millions of dollars to yourself, appearances matter as much as campaign finance rules. Donors don't want to think they're padding a billionaire's bottom line.
Rick Wilson, a Republican political operative who has been very critical of Trump, repeatedly tweeted out details of Trump's latest campaign finance report with the hashtag #scampaign.
Wilson said he spent a lot of time on the phone this week with Republican donors. "You could hear the sound of their checkbooks closing," he said. "They don't want to have to throw good money after bad in a campaign with a guy who's not prepared to run, a guy who's not serious about running, and a guy who's, frankly, using this to build up his brand and enrich his companies."
There's no question Trump mixes advertising with politics. His campaign is sending out advisories for this week's trip to Scotland, which is centered on the opening of a new Trump golf course. When Trump held an event at Trump National Golf Club this spring, he made sure to tell reporters that famous golfer Jack Nicklaus designed it.
Potter said all these Trump-to-Trump payments benefit a candidate who has loaned more than $40 million to his own campaign. "The true cost to Mr. Trump is less than it appears, because the money is ending up — some of the money is ending up — back in his pocket," he said. "It's going out of one pocket and into the other, when he pays for houses he owns, or the plane that he owns, or staff who already work for him."
Potter said it's probably a long shot, but if the Trump campaign uses contributions to pay back all of Trump's loans to himself, he could actually turn a profit off his campaign for president.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.