Donald Trump is a twice-impeached, one-term president who continues to spout lies that led to an attempted violent overthrow of a free and fair election that he lost, but in the year since slinking away from the White House, his businesses have thrived on Republican officials treating his properties as their de facto headquarters. In the past year, candidates running for federal and state office and sitting members of Congress looking to keep their seats and appeal to a Trump-loving base have visited Trump’s properties in droves, and many have held expensive fundraising events at them. According to tracking by CREW, public officials and candidates for office have made at least 235 visits to Trump properties and have held 51 events.
These visits bring more than just profit to the for-profit kingmaker of the Republican Party, they bring an alternate reality. At Mar-a-Lago, Trump won in 2020. These visits and events, where Trump is often present and frequently gives remarks, perpetuate that false belief. Many of Trump’s top customers are the same people most involved in spreading it.
As president, Trump used his office to enrich himself through his properties at every turn. Instead of holding him accountable, other officials in the Republican Party followed his lead, visiting and spending money at the president’s properties, and promoting them in public statements. One year after Trump left office, nothing has changed. Trump has continued to brand his properties as centers of GOP power and influence, and fellow Republicans have swallowed the bait.
Since Trump left office, 46 members of Congress and 77 candidates for office flocked to Trump’s luxury resorts, hotels and golf clubs. These visits afford members more than company and caviar, they are chances to meet the former president to seek an endorsement, promote their agendas, and snap a photo to imply his support. Perhaps most importantly, they put money in the pocket of the former president.
Eleven senators and 35 representatives have made 119 visits to Trump properties since he left office. Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina tops the list with 10 visits, followed by Senator Lindsey Graham (nine), and Reps. Matt Gaetz (eight), Lauren Boebert (seven) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (six). Most of their visits have taken place at Mar-a-Lago, where Trump resides for much of the year.
Party leadership takes part in this practice, too. Days after the insurrection, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Trump bore responsibility for the attack on Congress “by mob rioters.” A few weeks later, he flew to Mar-a-Lago to try to patch things up. Since then, he has continued to defend Trump’s false assertions about the election being stolen. He visited Trump at Bedminster to discuss House Republicans’ fundraising and Congressional special elections. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise similarly visited Trump at Mar-a-Lago shortly after the insurrection.
Patronizing Trump properties is just one part of showing political allegiance with the former president. Trump’s top customers are also among the most prominent supporters of the Big Lie that he won the 2020 presidential election.
Cawthorn spoke at Trump’s January 6th Stop the Steal rally, pushing baseless allegations about election fraud and calling Republicans who refused to push the Big Lie “cowards.” When violence unfolded at the Capitol, he refused to blame Trump supporters, and claimed it was “agitators” from the left. Boebert and Greene have both promoted unproven claims of widespread election fraud.
Congress members’ frequent visits to Trump’s hotels and golf courses have helped his properties maintain their status as centers of Republican power–and destinations for party spending. New candidates are following their lead, attending fundraisers at Mar-a-Lago and spending money at Trump golf courses as they appeal to the former president for access and endorsements.
Since Trump has left office, 77 candidates for federal and state office have made 123 visits to Trump properties according to tracking by CREW. Candidates have paid the greatest number of visits to Mar-a-Lago (67), followed by Trump’s Bedminster club (20). Congressional candidate Laura Loomer has made five visits to Trump properties, as has former New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Phil Rizzo. Rizzo publicized his visit to Trump’s golf club on Instagram. They are followed by Ohio Senate candidate Josh Mandel as well as Anna Paulina Luna and Florida State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, both running for Congress. Each has made four visits.
Candidates who are Trump customers have also pushed the Big Lie while paying Trump through his businesses to gain his favor. Mandel has attended events at Mar-a-Lago at least three times last year and spoke at an event at Doral where he made false voter fraud claims about Ohio’s election. During campaign stops and Republican forums in Ohio, he has claimed that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and theorized that January 6th was an operation funded by the Deep State and organized by George Soros.
While some candidates have visited Trump businesses while seeking his endorsement, others have patronized them after getting one, as an apparent thank you, in the form of cash, to the former president. Twenty candidates and officeholders that Trump has endorsed have visited his properties to spend money.
North Carolina Rep. Ted Budd, who is seeking a Senate seat in 2022, was endorsed by Trump in June. In November, he held a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago where tickets cost up to $10,800 per person. Trump attended the event as a special guest.
Anna Paulina Luna has made four visits to Trump properties since he endorsed her in her congressional bid in September. In December, Trump hosted an event for her campaign at Mar-a-Lago. He has hosted events there for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders as well. For $50,000, guests at the Paxton campaign’s event could have their photos taken and dine with the Texas attorney general and the former president.
One-hundred thirty-eight of the visits by members of Congress and candidates were to attend lavish political fundraising events held by candidate committees and other groups. In Trump’s first year out of office, political groups held 51 events at 13 different Trump properties. The vast majority were at Trump’s home, Mar-a-Lago, and his Bedminster, New Jersey golf club where he spent the summer. Trump rewarded these campaigns for their payments to him by attending 28 of these events, often delivering supportive remarks.
After his election in 2016, Trump turned his properties into extensions of the White House by carrying out a slew of official and political events at them. By holding press conferences and fundraisers, and hosting foreign dignitaries there, Trump sought to boost his own bottom line by turning his properties into centers of political power and influence. In the four years of his presidency, political groups held 104 events at Trump properties. To put it in context, in Trump’s first year out of office, political groups hosted nearly half the number of events they held during his entire presidency.
A fundraiser at one of Trump’s properties can be invaluable, especially if Trump makes an appearance–or the ultimate prize, an endorsement. It allows candidates to show their proximity to the former president and gives them the opportunity to raise thousands of dollars from wealthy donors who also wish for Trump-adjacency. It helps them ingratiate themselves with Trump by bringing patrons, publicity and, most importantly, profit to his properties. The events are typically widely publicized by candidates and their campaigns. They are pricey affairs. Last February, Utah Senator Mike Lee held a fundraising dinner at Mar-a-Lago co-headlined by Rep. Lauren Boebert, with tickets going for $10,600 per couple.
According to the Washington Post, candidates seeking to book an event at a Trump property “are required to fill out a form asking if Trump’s presence is requested, how many photos the candidate needs with him and whether his name will be on the invite.” The former president has made an appearance at more than half of political fundraisers at his properties. In his remarks he typically pushes the Big Lie that he is the rightful winner of the 2020 election.
These events frequently draw additional candidates and officials to Trump properties to speak, party, take pictures and, maybe most importantly, put cash in the pocket of the former president. Former Trump appointee and current New York gubernatorial candidate Andrew Giuliani attended Rep. Elise Stefanik’s Mar-a-Lago fundraiser last month, along with two candidates for Congress in New York and a Senate candidate from Ohio. Herschel Walker, a former football player looking to unseat Raphael Warnock in Georgia’s Senate race, had five candidates from four different states attend his recent event at Mar-a-Lago. Nick D’Agostino, Billy Prempeh and Darius Mayfield, all running for Congress in New Jersey at the time, attended Rizzo’s fundraiser at Bedminster this past spring. When former Trump aide and current candidate for Congress Max Miller had an event at Mar-a-Lago, four candidates for Senate in his home state of Ohio attended.
Candidates aren’t the only ones who benefit from the events. Trump makes a huge profit. According to the Washington Post, Trump raked in almost half a million dollars from just nine events held by candidates running for federal office. The total number is undoubtedly much higher.
State government candidates are also big spenders. Four candidates in state races have combined to spend more than $200,000 at Trump properties. Arkansas gubernatorial candidate and former Trump Administration press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders spent $59,500 on two events at Mar-a-Lago. Rizzo spent $44,884 on three events at two of Trump’s New Jersey golf courses. Arizona’s Kari Lake spent $55,000 on an event at Mar-a-Lago and other visits and Ken Paxton, running for reelection as Texas’s Attorney General, dropped $50,000 there, too.
Profit for his properties isn’t the only thing Trump gets from these events and visits. While candidates receive facetime with the former president, their presence at Mar-a-Lago emphasizes Trump’s importance to their campaigns and reinforces that he is the leader of the Republican Party, often lending legitimacy to the false belief that Trump won the 2020 election in the process.
For Trump’s businesses, his presidency is the grift that keeps on giving. Trump used the power and privileges he gained as president to promote his properties. That grift hasn’t ended with his term as president. This time around he’s gaining something even more valuable. At Mar-a-Lago, Trump and his allies are ushering in a new class of like-minded candidates who will push Trump’s America First agenda whether he runs again in 2024 or not. In a way, Trump got what he always wanted out of the presidency: he’s turned the Republican Party into his own personal fiefdom, where the only way to gain power is to journey to his properties to kiss his ring–and offer tribute to fill his coffers.