On Wednesday evening, President Trump and the Republican National Committee will host the president’s first reelection fundraiser —a $35,000-a-ticket soiree. Not coincidentally, the dinner will take place at Trump’s favorite place in the nation's capital: Trump International Hotel. Proceeds from the fundraiser will be split between the RNC and Trump’s reelection campaign, according to Politico.
In hosting the dinner at his hotel, Trump manages to raise money not only for his 2020 campaign but for himself too. After all, any business the hotel does is personal profit for the president, who still owns the Trump Organization. It’s unclear if the hotel will make money from the dinner, but even if the hotel gave the food for free, any money attendees spend on hotel rooms, at the bar, or at shops in the hotel goes straight to the Trump Organization.
The hotel, which opened in February, brought the Trump Organization $20 million in revenue within the first few months of operation, according to Trump’s latest financial disclosure. It has been a popular spot for foreign embassies to host events and visiting dignitaries, raising ethical concerns under the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits the president from accepting anything of value from foreign governments. A group of 200 Democratic lawmakers have sued Trump for violating the clause — a claim that Trump’s lawyers has said the Justice Department would likely dismiss.
At one point, Trump’s lawyer said the president would donate profits from foreign-government clients who do business at his hotel. So far, Trump has not shown any proof that he has donated any money.
Trump’s decision to host the RNC dinner at his hotel is the latest ethics dilemma for a president whose administration has shown a general disregard for potential conflicts of interest. Trump refused to divest from his business interests when elected (his sons are now in charge of running the Trump Organization). Because Trump still earns money from his business — and hasn’t released his tax returns — it’s impossible to guarantee that he is not motivated in his policy decisions by a desire to enrich himself and his family.
Ethics experts have been pushing Trump to completely separate himself from his businesses to eliminate the appearance of impropriety. The director of the US Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, has repeatedly urged Trump to sell his assets and put them in a blind trust, which he hasn’t done.
During a January event at the Brookings Institution, Shaub criticized Trump for not doing so: “We can’t risk creating the perception that government leaders would use their official positions for profit. That’s why I was glad in November when the president-elect tweeted that he wanted to, as he put it, ‘in no way have a conflict of interest’ with his businesses. Unfortunately, his current plan cannot achieve that goal.”