One of the most unsettling realities of the Trump era is not just that Trump has refused to separate himself from his eponymous company, but also that his political allies have fully embraced the arrangement and all the conflicts of interest that come with it.
Candidates and committees who spent next to nothing on events at Trump properties prior to 2016 now spend hundreds of thousands of dollars there. And when Trump himself isn’t on hand to make an appearance, administration officials often fill the void, giving party operatives, lobbyists, and wealthy donors the access to power that they expect when they make top-dollar contributions.
This is true not just for lower-level officials like Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Sanders, but, increasingly so, for the man who is second in line to the presidency, Vice President Mike Pence, who has made more frequent appearances at fundraising events held at the Trump International Hotel in 2018.
Pence assured the public after the 2016 election that “the President-elect and his family will create the proper separation from his businesses,” but Trump has refused to divest from the Trump Organization.
Yet, Pence appears to have come to terms with Trump’s financial arrangement, evidenced by the fact that he has hosted or attended at least nine events at the luxury hotel in 2018, up from just three appearances accounted for last year. These visits have likely earned the Trump Organization hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Aside from hosting foreign dignitaries and domestic leaders — whose spending often can’t be tracked in any meaningful way — the hotel has become a destination for political candidates and PACs to fundraise and gain the recognition of the president. Since Trump took office, political groups have spent just over $1.5 million at Trump’s D.C. hotel, and that only includes spending that can be traced using reports filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Payments from these groups to the hotel around the dates of Pence’s appearances total over $300,000.
The Vice President has attended and hosted events raising money for 501(c)(3) non-profit groups, which are not required to report spending in detail — like the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council — and political committees, which are required to disclose their disbursements to the FEC. The latter set of groups includes party committees like the Republican National Committee, super PACs like America First Action, as well as campaign accounts like Greg Pence for Congress, which helped elect Mike Pence’s brother to the House of Representatives in November.
Pence’s own joint fundraising committee with Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Protect the House, raised $3.2 million for vulnerable House Republicans during their June fundraising dinner at the Trump Hotel, charging up to $250,000 for tickets that included a roundtable, photo opportunity, and admission to the after-party.
Outside of Pence’s appearances, the hotel, including its restaurant and bar, has hosted over 100 political candidates and committees. Protect the House and Great America Committee, Pence’s PAC, have collectively spent over $345,000 at Trump’s D.C. hotel since Inauguration day.
Fundraisers and Trump administration official appearances at the hotel are likely only to ramp up going into the upcoming presidential election cycle, and maybe even the holiday season. Last year, Pence attended a Christmas party thrown by a pro-Trump Super PAC, America First Action, that is likely to hold many more events there as 2020 approaches.