Trump’s effort to profit off the presidency gets underway in earnest

Mar-a-Lago dues are doubling, and Trump-branded hotels look to expand across the country.

Donald Trump and his wife Melania arrive for a New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Donald Trump and his wife Melania arrive for a New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

On Wednesday, CNBC broke news that the Trump Organization is doubling the initiation fee for its Mar-a-Lago resort — the place President Trump recently described as “the Winter White House” — to $200,000 (taxes and $14,000 annual dues not included).

Buying a membership to Mar-a-Lago buys access to Trump. Over New Year’s, the then-president-elect partied with paying guests at the Palm Beach, Florida resort and gave a shout-out to one of his billionaire business partners. Trump is reportedly planning to vacation there again as soon as the weekend of February 3.

Also on Wednesday, Bloomberg reported that the head of Trump’s hotel-management company is planning for “an ambitious expansion across the U.S.” that would triple the number of Trump-branded hotels in the country.

“There are 26 major metropolitan areas in the U.S., and we’re in five,” Trump Hotels Chief Executive Officer Eric Danziger said on Tuesday. “I don’t see any reason that we couldn’t be in all of them eventually.”

That expansion is in the works despite the fact that Trump’s new Washington, D.C. hotel lost $1.1 million in September and October. But with Trump now inaugurated as president, his hotel-management company apparently sees an opportunity to cash in.

Both the Mar-a-Lago fee increase and the expansion of Trump-branded hotels represent ways Trump will profit off the presidency. Unlike other modern presidents, Trump refused to sell his company or put his assets into a blind trust. Instead, he transferred management to his two adult sons, both of whom were intimately involved in their father’s presidential transition. And during a press conference earlier this month, Trump reneged on a vow he made about the Trump Organization not pursuing any “new deals” while he’s president.

At that same press conference, Trump outlined a plan to have the activities of his business, including any new domestic deals, to be be “approved” by an unnamed “ethics adviser” and chief compliance counsel, both employed by the Trump Organization.

On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s ethics adviser will be Bobby Burchfield, a Republican attorney who represented George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential recount in Florida. And for chief compliance counsel, Trump chose George Sorial, a longtime Trump Organization employee who most recently worked as executive vice president and counsel.

Those choices were criticized by Every Voice, a group that works to lessen the influence of money in American politics.

“There’s nothing independent about hiring a loyal Republican party attorney or your own counsel to make sure you’re following the rules,” Adam Smith, spokesman for Every Voice, said in a statement published by the Journal. “They need truly independent watchdogs.”

The flurry of Trump Organization news comes a week after Trump spokesman Sean Spicer dismissed concerns his boss is using the power of the presidency to promote his Washington, D.C. hotel and thereby line his pockets.

With regard to Trump’s decision to dine at the hotel’s restaurant two consecutive nights before the inauguration, Spicer said, “I think that’s pretty smart.”

“I think the idea that he’s going to his own hotel shouldn’t be a shocker,” Spicer continued. “It’s a beautiful place, it’s somewhere that he’s very proud of and I think it’s symbolic of the kind of government that he’s going to run.”

“It’s an absolutely stunning hotel. I encourage you to go there if you haven’t been by,” Spicer said.