The Republican Party has put nearly $1.5 million in donor money directly into the Trump family’s pockets over the past two years, the Center for Responsive Politics reported Monday.
On purely cost-benefit terms, the Republican National Committee’s indulgence of President Trump’s preference for working from home has worked out for the party’s fundraising staff. It paid the Trump Organization about $224,000 to throw a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago in March where attendees scrounged up $12 million in donations split between Trump’s re-election fund and the RNC’s own accounts.
The party committee flushed another $367,000 into the Trump-owned golf facility where it hosted its 2018 spring conclave in June. Those two events account for roughly a third of the total RNC spending at Trump properties during the 2018 cycle, according to CRP’s money-in-politics site OpenSecrets. The party’s main committee accounts for less than half of Trump’s corporate billings to Republicans for event hosting this cycle, which totals $3.4 million.
It’s not just Republican donors juicing the Trump Organization’s bottom line, of course. The president’s habit of traveling to his own properties for weekends has forced taxpayers into the game too, as ProPublica reported this summer. Taxpayer-funded agencies and organizations have spent at least $386,000 at Trump properties since Inauguration Day. The full total is unknown, the site noted, “because agencies are fighting disclosure” in response to records requests for spending details.
Trump’s unique ability to convert his political office into private payments to his family’s company is the subject of litigation unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. Congressional Democrats and the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) have each sued the president and his company over the profiteering, arguing that the payments violate the Constitution’s prohibition on self-enrichment in office. That prohibition, known as the emoluments clause, has rarely been explored or defined by courts — making it likely that each suit would be tangled in appeals for years regardless of how they might initially be decided.
State attorneys general for Maryland and the District of Columbia are pursuing their own litigation on foreign government spending at Trump properties, seeking to flush out a kind of broad-daylight influence-peddling that has historically required quiet meetings, locking briefcases, and off-shore accounts.
Unlike the money dumped on Trump by the RNC, individual Republican candidates, and hapless taxpayers, the cash lobbyists and state actors from outside the U.S. splash into Trump’s pocket before doing business with his government has serious legal implications. As he has so often throughout his career in the limelight, Trump’s sought to wave away such concerns by promising to donate all the money his hotels get from the governments he negotiates with on the U.S.’s behalf. The company made a roughly $150,000 payment to the Treasury earlier this year that it says fulfills that promise, though journalists who have combed the Trump Organization’s figures say foreign influencers have spent far more than that in his properties since he became president.
Whatever answer the legal system ultimately comes to on Trump and emoluments, the RNC’s spending at Trump properties illustrates a more immediate and fundamental reality that the president’s opponents will have to face over the next two or more election cycles: Trump brings in big bucks. He’s banked more than $100 million for his own re-election already. And despite choosing a more selfish split than other presidents have traditionally sought in fundraising activity, Trump’s events and online appeals have netted tens of millions more for the party he controls.
However loathesome his message is to progressive and centrist ears, he will be able to put enormous firepower behind it — and so will the wave of fellow-travelling politicians who kiss the ring and ape his bellicose, xenophobic, misogynistic, and racist patterns of rhetoric over the next several Novembers.