It seems President Donald Trump does not understand the concept of conflict of interest because he keeps making the same “mistake” again and again. This time, it’s by increasing the initiation fee of his resort twofold.
Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach changed its fee from $100,000 to $200,000 on Jan. 1, just a scant few weeks before his inauguration. The resort, also dubbed as the “Winter White House,” also charges $14,000 plus tax as annual dues, and why not? It now provides the additional privilege of meeting with the 45th president of the United States. Trump has already visited the place twice in less than three months: once during Thanksgiving and then for Christmas holidays.
In fact, he wrote his inaugural address at the resort.
The president has been seeking to distance himself from his business by putting it in trust and transferring its management to his sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, according to his attorney. Just a few days before assuming office, he held a press conference in Manhattan, with a huge stack of (blank) papers to signal legal documents and announced this decision.
However, none of these measures have satisfied ethics expert since the president still owns a huge assortment of hotels, apartments, golf courses, resorts and real estate holdings and his close relationship with his children may result in conflict of interest if anybody approaches them to curry favors from the White House. Other presidents have put their assets into a blind trust to avoid the appearance and actual occurrence of impropriety.
The move to increase the fee of his resort has done nothing to dissuade critics and raises concerns about how a president is able to cash in on his name even if he does not hold the reins to his business.
It’s not yet apparent whether Trump’s presidency has actually benefited his business; however, being the leader of the free world, it would be natural if more partners want to contract with him, or more people would want to live in Trump-branded hotels.
Some of those people could be foreign leaders, which is a violation of the Constitution as U.S. presidents are forbidden from taking money or gifts from them.
However, the president’s attorney has argued that since hotel bills are fair-valued services, they are exempted from the rule.
“Assuming that the Saudi king is a Mar-a-Lago member: If others are paying a higher fee (many others), that would tend to establish that the higher rates are market rates,” professor Saikrishna Prakash at the University of Virginia School of Law, said in an email. “For instance, if 1,000 members agree to stay on at higher rates, that would suggest that Mar members were getting something of a discount before.”
But critics see it for what it is: a blatant attempt to profit from the presidency.
Former President Barack Obama’s top ethics lawyer, Norm Eisen, said the price hike was “not very subtle exploitation of the fact that the club's figurehead is now president of the U.S."
"This type of naked profiteering off of a government office is what I would expect from King Louis XVI or his modern kleptocratic equivalents, not an American president," Norm Eisen said.
Trump’s spokespeople have yet to address the accusations.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Jonathan Ernst