If there’s anything President Donald Trump loves more than his business empire, it’s being a candidate on the campaign trial. Wednesday night, he’ll combine both roles as he hosts his first reelection fundraiser, the earliest of any sitting president.
The fundraiser, which people have paid anywhere from $35,000 to upwards of $110,000 to attend, will be held at Trump’s second residence along Pennsylvania Avenue — the Trump International Hotel.
Trump International has become one Trump’s most glaring conflicts of interest, visible from the White House lawn. When he signed a 60-year lease with the General Services Administration in 2013, he signed a contract that contains a clause that reads:
No member or delegate to Congress, or elected official of the Government of the United States or the Government of the District of Columbia, shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.
In March the GSA released a letter saying the Trump Organization is in “full compliance” with the lease, largely because he moved his business interests from the hotel into a trust. However as ProPublica reported in April, the trust is handled by Trump’s children and he is the sole beneficiary, able to remove funds from the trust without disclosing it to the public.
Being in a continuous campaign mode is profitable. In 2000, Trump speculated that he could “be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it,” and there is evidence to support the claim that he has profited off of both the campaign and the presidency. When Trump initially set up his campaign headquarters at Trump Tower, he prided himself on being self-funded with a low-cost operation. He later quadrupled the rent to $169,758 after he began receiving funds from donors even though he employed less staff than in the months prior.
The pattern of profiteering off his initial run is continuing into his reelection campaign. According to FEC filings, the Trump campaign has sent $274,000 in rent to his offices in Trump Tower, even though his reelection campaign only employs 20 people. That works out to about $91,000 a month, which is more than half of what he paid at the height of his campaign when 168 employees were on payroll.
So donors who are paying upwards of $110,000 to attend Wednesday night’s even for Trump’s reelection campaign, are also funneling funds back to Trump twice. First, through the Trump hotel for the space, food and drinks. Second, the money that’s left over will go to Trump’s campaign expenses, which includes rent at Trump Tower. Because he still retains ownership, any event hosted at a Trump Organization Property by Trump the president, also benefits Trump the businessman.
Trump has also found ways to leverage the presidency to advance his business interests outside of his campaign.
Earlier this month, the Justice Department filed a disclosure detailing that the Trump International Hotel took in about $270,000 in payments tied to Saudi Arabia. The money covered everything from catering to parking to lodging for their guests. The White House later released a statement that the money would be donated at the end of the year, but the hotels have failed to keep the records necessary to make that possible.
Trump has also raised the profile of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s “Southern White House” and private club in Palm Beach, Florida, visiting frequently and hosting heads of state. Mar-a-Lago doubled its initiation fee shortly after the inauguration to $200,000, which doesn’t include taxes or the $14,000 in annual dues. Trump’s recently released financial disclosures showed that in 2016, Mar-a-Lago had revenues of nearly $30 million. In 2017, the Mar-a-Lago revenues have risen to $37 million.