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Trump Already Profiting From 2020 Campaign

Trump’s 2020 campaign has already paid $395,000 for space in New York’s pricey Trump Tower, ensuring the president and his family will profit.

The views expressed are the author’s own and not neces­sar­ily those of the Bren­nan Center for Justice.

It seems Donald Trump’s 2020 run for the White House will look a lot like his 2016 bid – the campaign will patron­ize Trump-owned enter­prises—en­sur­ing the candid­ate and his family will profit.

For instance, the campaign has already paid $395,000 for space in New York’s pricey Trump Tower, accord­ing to spend­ing reports for the first six months of the year filed with the Federal Elec­tion Commis­sion. Whatever logic may have exis­ted in 2016 for hous­ing the campaign in the same place where Donald Trump conduc­ted his busi­ness, does not obtain in 2020 when the candid­ate is 230 miles away in the White House. Over­all, the campaign has raised $15 million and spent $10.7 million.

Of course, staffers stay in Trump hotels. For instance, the campaign has dropped $12,400 alone in lodging costs at the Trump Inter­na­tional Hotel in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. And to the degree one can tell which charges are for a one-night stay, the campaign usually paid more than the advert­ised rate for the cheapest room, which is now $319 per night. One can ques­tion why aides must stay in a five-star hotel in the first place, but if that type of luxury is required, Trump’s digs would not be the first choice. For instance, Wash­ing­ton’s vener­able five-star The Hay-Adams not only has rooms that are $40 cheaper per night than Trump’s, it is ranked higher by consumers in Tripad­visor (no. 3 vs. no. 11), but is even closer to the White House.

This is all busi­ness as usual for Trump. A $13,800 payment for “Facil­ity Rental/Cater­ing Services” to Trump Inter­na­tional Hotel Las Vegas, a total of $7,700 to New York’s “Trump Restaur­ants LLC” for rental and cater­ing, and $3,000 in total to the same entity for “rental.” (Maybe no one ate.) No expense is too trivial for an oppor­tun­ity to line his pock­ets. For instance, on March 13, 2017, the campaign paid “Trump Ice LLC” $940.50 for “office supplies.” The campaign must have had a busy 48 hours using yellow high­light­ers because on March 15, they paid another $940.50 to the same entity for more “office supplies.”

Yet, even by Trump stand­ards, there are certain expendit­ures that standout. For instance, the Trump Corpor­a­tion collec­ted nearly $90,000 from the campaign in June for “legal consult­ing.” Just what this “legal consult­ing” was for is left unspe­cified. And the Trump Corpor­a­tion is not to be confused with the Trump Organ­iz­a­tion, the hold­ing company for the pres­id­ent’s busi­ness ventures. The Trump Corpor­a­tion is the pres­id­ent’s real estate manage­ment company, from which he collec­ted $18 million in the 12 months preced­ing June 2017, accord­ing to Trump’s disclos­ure to the Office of Govern­ment Ethics.

Perhaps these payments are in some way tied to Michael Cohen, who is inev­it­ably described as “Trump’s personal lawyer.” Cohen used to have the title of exec­ut­ive vice pres­id­ent and special coun­sel to Trump at the Trump Organ­iz­a­tion, but Cohen quit these posts in Janu­ary so he could work full-time for the pres­id­ent and the pres­id­ent alone. But Cohen does not work for the White House Coun­sel’s office; in fact, the only payroll he is on, so far as is known, is Donald Trump’s.

Natur­ally, Cohen is caught-up in one small tentacle of the Trump/Russia invest­ig­a­tion, and has hired his own lawyer. In late Janu­ary, Cohen met with an oppos­i­tion lawmaker from the Ukraine who handed him a “peace plan” to settle Ukraine’s conflict with Russia. Part of the plan included the U.S. lift­ing sanc­tions against Russia. Not surpris­ingly, the legis­lator said he was encour­aged to make the over­ture from top aides to Russian Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin. Then, in Febru­ary, when Cohen was visit­ing his client in the Oval Office, he left a sealed envel­ope with the plan in the office of Michael Flynn, then-Trump’s national secur­ity adviser. Flynn resigned the next week because he lied about his own discus­sions with the Russian ambas­sador about lift­ing sanc­tions.

While the $89,000 “legal consult­ing” payment is murky at best, there is another payment to a lawyer that appears crys­tal clear. In June, the campaign cut a $50,000 check to Alan S. Futer­fas, the New York white collar crim­inal defense lawyer who repres­ents Donald Trump Jr. in the Russia invest­ig­a­tion. The nice, round number suggests that the payment was a retainer agree­ment. Inter­est­ingly, the records show no payments to other lawyers known to be involved in the Russia probe.

The Futer­fas payment raises an obvi­ous ques­tion. Why is Trump’s 2020 campaign paying for an expense stem­ming from Trump’s campaign four years ago? This takes the notion of a perman­ent campaign to new heights. And why is the campaign – be it 2016 or 2020 – paying the legal fees of the candid­ate’s son? To the extent the FEC and the courts have considered whether campaign funds can be used for atyp­ical legal fees, their rulings have always involved the candid­ate.

What is remark­able, but hardly surpris­ing, is Trump’s own self-myth­o­logy about the 2016 campaign. In an inter­view last month with The Wall Street Journal, the tran­script of which was published by Politico, loyal aide Hope Hicks reminded the pres­id­ent that he had “self-funded” his campaign. Trump read­ily agreed, saying that he had “self-funded much” of his 2016 bid. Uh, not exactly. Accord­ing to Open­ Trump gave his campaign $66 million, which repres­en­ted about 20 percent of the total expendit­ures of $333 million. Yet, the campaign shelled out about $13 million to vari­ous Trump busi­nesses. The self-deal­ing reduces Trump’s contri­bu­tion by about 20 percent to $53 million, and shaves Trump’s personal share of the campaign’s expenses down to about 16 percent.

The tragedy in all this does not rest with right-wing billion­aires such as James Mercer whose Renais­sance Tech­no­lo­gies hedge fund gave Trump $15 million. It lies with the small donors – those who gave less than $200. Small dona­tions totaled $87 million four years ago, repres­ent­ing 26 percent of all dona­tions. If one assumes the aver­age contri­bu­tion was $100, these 870,000 people most likely cannot afford to stay at Trump’s hotels, eat at Trump’s restaur­ants, hire Trump’s lawyers, or even buy Trump’s office supplies. Yet, they have faith that a man who uses their money as a personal piggy bank will Make Amer­ica Great Again.