MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Donald Trump's conflict of interest between his profiteering and the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution continues into his second year in office. The Emoluments Clause prohibits a president from financially benefiting from any gift or action of a foreign government.
The Trump Organization is profiting off the presidency in numerous ways. China has granted multiple trademarks to Trump products and services, and foreign governments have had representatives stay at Trump properties, beginning with his inauguration just over a year ago.
Although Trump stated before he was sworn in that he would remove himself from the running of the Trump Organization, he didn't remove himself from personally profiting from his interest in the corporation. Plus, although he said his children would run the company and make decisions, their interests do not appear to be entirely separate from their father's -- he is clearly benefiting financially from their promotion of the sprawling business.
There are a number of lawsuits charging that Trump is violating the Emoluments Clause. However, two of them were dismissed by a federal judge in December. The judge, US District Court Judge George Daniels, wrote in his decision that this was a constitutional issue to be decided by Congress.
However, it is not just the Emoluments Clause that is at issue, when it comes to Trump's conflicts of interest. There is also the fact that Trump benefits from all the additional business attracted to the Trump Organization through the use of his corporate properties for governmental and personal purposes. Public Citizen, a consumer rights advocacy group, issued a report last week that found at least "64 trade groups, foreign governments, companies, charities and politicians hold events at Trump properties":
"Donald Trump entered office with the most blatant and potentially corrupting conflicts of interest in the history of American politics, and things only got worse from there," said Robert Weissman, Public Citizen’s president....
Corporate interests that have held or are planning to hold events at Trump-owned locations include the National Mining Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and GEO Group, a private prison company that benefited from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' reversal of an Obama-era decision to phase out private prisons and held its annual leadership conference at the Trump National Doral golf resort in Florida.
The Public Citizen report does not address individual use of Trump hotels, golf courses, purchase of condos, etc., which adds another dimension to the president's conflicts of interest. After all, it is common sense that people will pay the hefty fees to join and remain a member of the Mar-a-Lago Club in West Palm Beach, for example, just to rub shoulders with the president of the United States.
It is essential to remember that Trump is not just the president and a billionaire; he is also a master in the marketing of his name. Trump is fully aware that he is a brand, and as a person who has the full power of the presidency of the United States, he is selling his brand. The Trump Organization now even has a full store on the internet that is tied to the Trump logo.
Trump's family is part of his brand. That is why a recent article in The Washington Post reconfirms that the Trump Organization and the Trump presidential brand are inextricably bound together through cross-promotion:
Prospective buyers of luxury apartments in the new Trump Towers project outside India's capital are being lured with an unusual promise: If you buy a flat, we will fly you to the United States to meet Donald Trump Jr.....
The launch of the new towers comes amid rising concerns that President Trump's children — including Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, who are running their father's business while he serves as president — are using their names to profit from their father's presidency, and that foreign officials and others may stay in Trump hotels or buy Trump properties in attempts to curry favor or gain special access to the first family.
A study released last week by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) found that the price of the popular "Ivanka Suite" in the Trump International Hotel in Washington, for example, increased from $914 a night last year to $2,134 a night in 2018.
The Washington Post makes the mistake of implying it is only Trump's two sons who are profiting from their father's position and branding efforts. Donald Trump himself is also making money from their actions, because he never relinquished his ownership in the Trump Organization. Governing, branding, profiteering and special access to Trump and his family are wholly intertwined.
As Trump begins the second year of his presidency, he is also starting another year of profiteering off of his position as head of the United States government.