In June the Waldorf Astoria opened for business in downtown D.C.’s Old Post Office Building, replacing the Trump International Hotel, which for five years served as an assembly point for Republican officials, lobbyists and anyone who wanted to buy Donald Trump’s attention. Despite the fact that the Waldorf is in the same building and kept public and private spaces remarkably the same, political spending at the new hotel all but disappeared when compared to the years when it was owned by a sitting president.
From its opening in June to the midterm elections, Republican officials, candidates and fundraising committees have spent less than $2,000 at the Waldorf Astoria, according to FEC data. In the same five-month window during the 2018 midterms, Republicans spent more than 400 times that amount with $867K in disbursements to the Trump Hotel. After the property opened in 2016 Republicans spent $266K in its first six months alone. This is only a portion of the spending that took place at the time, as a number of wealthy Republican donors and dark money groups also spent money at Trump’s hotel, without any requirement to disclose that spending to the public.
Trump hotel customers often claimed that the hotel’s downtown location and close proximity to the White House and Capitol explained their patronage. Representative Kevin McCarthy disregarded concerns about spending at Trump International, and said that Trump’s properties are “just like any other hotel.” Throughout Trump’s presidency, McCarthy’s committees spent over a quarter-million dollars at Trump properties and earned Trump’s support for his bid for Speaker of the House. The day after T-Mobile announced its merger with Sprint, nine T-Mobile executives stayed at Trump Hotel. CEO John Legere tweeted that the hotel was “convenient” and that the stay would not “have any influence on regulatory decisions.” Trump later approved the merger. The CEO of an energy trade group and Trump’s own campaign director also asserted that the Trump Hotel was a convenient choice for their events.
When Donald Trump became president, he made the unprecedented decision not to divest from his business interests, opening the door for those looking to curry favor with his administration to line his pockets. It worked. In four years, political committees, special interest groups and foreign governments spent millions of dollars at Trump’s eponymous clubs, golf courses and hotels. Trump’s D.C. hotel, opened just weeks before the 2016 election, proved to be especially popular, hosting nearly 50 political fundraisers, bringing thousands of guests and amassing millions.
If Trump’s D.C. hotel really was just “convenient” and like “any other hotel,” then the Waldorf Astoria should be equally as popular as its predecessor. Instead, spending from Republicans at the new hotel is negligible, suggesting what they really bought from Trump was much more than cocktails and event space.