What you need to know:
The Trump administration has given the president’s personal business empire direct benefits in the form of policies that may boost his bottom line, ranging from environmental regulations that impact Trump’s golf courses to work visas that allow his businesses to hire cheaper seasonal workers, to tax cuts that will likely save him millions and even major military decisions that protect his foreign businesses.
When Donald Trump made the unprecedented decision not to divest from his business interests while serving as president, he not only opened the door to using the power of his office for personal financial gain—he walked through it. President Trump has sought to use his office to boost his private businesses at every turn—providing unparalleled marketing by hosting official events at his properties, promoting them by name in official remarks, and rewarding interest groups that patronize them with access to his administration.
In addition to these obvious conflicts of interest, however, the Trump administration has given the president’s personal business empire more direct benefits in the form of policies that may boost his bottom line. These span the government, ranging from environmental regulations that impact Trump’s golf courses to work visas that allow his businesses to hire cheaper seasonal workers, to tax cuts that will likely save him millions and even major military decisions that protect his foreign businesses. Some of these beneficial policies and actions have been highly publicized, while others have flown beneath the radar. Please feel free to send us a tip at [email protected] if you know of a policy we should investigate.
24 policies & actions that may benefit Trump
Administration Action: The coronavirus relief bill, which President Trump signed into law, may benefit the president’s businesses in three ways. First, it makes some hotel owners eligible to receive small-business loans to continue paying employees during coronavirus shutdowns, even if they employ hundreds of people. The Small Business Administration, the head of which is a Trump appointee, will have some discretion over allocating these funds. Second, it includes a change to the tax code that lets hotels and restaurants write off money spent on renovations immediately, instead of having to take the deduction over a period of years. Third, it permits real estate investors to use losses to pay less in taxes on profits they earn from other investments.
Trump’s Business Interest: The Trump Organization is a real estate development company that owns and operates hotels and restaurants across the country.
Conflict: Though the coronavirus relief legislation is explicit that the president’s businesses should not receive bailouts from the $500 billion fund for distressed businesses, two other provisions in the bill may benefit hotels and restaurants owned by the president. For example, President Trump’s Washington, DC hotel is believed to qualify for a small-business loan made available in the relief bill. A third part of it may lower his taxes, if he has continued to claim real estate losses on his returns. President Trump has claimed significant losses on his tax return in the past. The new policy rolls back limits on how much in real estate losses could be used to offset other income imposed by the 2017 tax bill.
Administration Action: President Trump signed an order limiting immigration to the United States during the coronavirus pandemic that did not apply to a type of work visa that several of his properties utilize to hire temporary workers at a lower cost. Though President Trump first said he was “suspend[ing] immigration into the United States,” the proclamation that was issued did not apply to immigrants traveling into the country on H-2A and H-2B visas.
Trump’s Business Interest: President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club as well as golf resorts he owns in Florida and New York have applied for and been granted H-2B visas by the Trump administration. The Trump winery in Virginia, from which the President also draws income, has applied for H-2A visas.
Conflict: Excluding H-2A and H-2B visas from the immigration rule protects the President’s businesses’ interest in their ability to continue to use the visas to hire temporary seasonal workers at an inexpensive cost. The Trump winery in particular has reportedly struggled to find American workers.
Administration Action: The New York Times reported that the Trump Organization has “opened a conversation” with the federal government about “possible changes to the terms of [its] lease” agreement involving the Trump hotel in Washington. The hotel operates in a federal building through a lease with the General Services Administration. The federal government has estimated the hotel’s monthly payments are in the hundreds of thousands. Eric Trump told the Times that the Trump Organization is asking to be treated the same as other federal tenants who may be granted relief as business has dried up due to coronavirus.
Trump’s Business Interest: The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. operates on a lease from the federal government.
Conflict: The Trump Organization’s communications with GSA about its lease with the government for the Trump hotel in Washington puts the agency in a position to make a decision that will affect President Trump’s finances. Senior leadership at GSA, including the administrator, is appointed by the president. The agency has been here before: it previously had to weigh in on the legality of the lease after President Trump took office. The agency’s inspector general accused it of “ignor[ing] constitutional issues” in its determination of that question.
Administration Action: In 2017, the Trump administration scrapped the plan to relocate the FBI headquarters to the DC suburbs. The bipartisan relocation plan had been in development for over a decade and was justified in part by a rigorous Government Accountability Office audit. Weeks before the FBI announced it would rebuild on its current location instead of following through with the move, the Administrator of the General Services Administration met with President Trump to discuss the FBI building, according to an inspector general (IG) report. The White House blocked her from disclosing details of that conversation and she was cited for providing “incomplete” information about the conversation in congressional testimony.
Trump’s Business Interest: Trump International Hotel in DC sits a block away from the FBI headquarters building.
Conflict: The relocation of the FBI headquarters may have led to new competition for the nearby Trump Hotel. Developers had expressed interest in building a hotel on the site of the headquarters. CREW is currently involved in litigation seeking records showing the White House’s role in the decision to cancel the relocation.
Administration Action: The White House announced in October 2019, in an abrupt shift from longstanding U.S. policy, American troops would step aside and allow Turkish forces to move into Kurdish-controlled Northern Syria.
Conflict: Taking an action contrary to Turkey’s geopolitical interests could endanger Trump’s business interests, particularly since Erdogan has shown a willingness to take his political frustration out on the Trump Organization. In 2016, Trump stated that he supported a ban on immigration from countries he associated with Islamic terrorism, which resulted in Erdogan calling on the Dogan family—Trump’s Turkish business partners—to remove Trump’s name from the towers. In 2018, Trump reported between $100,001 and $1 million in royalties from this licensing deal on a public financial disclosure filed with the Office of Government Ethics.
Administration Action: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 provided many tax deductions favorable to real estate developers, including interest rate deductions, and the elimination of taxes on property exchanges.
Trump’s Business Interest: Trump’s real estate empire is based in Manhattan and is worth an estimated $3 billion as of 2019.
Conflict: Trump is one of many real estate developers likely to profit from tax breaks equal to “$66.7 billion in lost revenue over ten years,” according to a House report, potentially shaving $11 million off his annual tax bill, if his tax returns look how they did in 2005. Unlike any President since Richard Nixon, Trump has not publicly disclosed his tax returns and has even sued government officials to keep them private.
Administration Action: Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney announced during a White House press conference that the Trump administration would host the 2020 G-7 summit at the Trump National Doral resort near Miami. President Trump had previewed the announcement two months before during last year’s summit, where he used official remarks to praise the resort as “incredible,” while also claiming that it was others in the government who preferred the Trump National venue. Records obtained by CREW would later dispute that claim. Days after the official announcement, President Trump abandoned the plan to host the event at the property after it resulted in outcry from the public, lawmakers, and groups like CREW.
Trump’s Business Interest: The Trump National Doral resort near Miami is a top source of President Trump’s income, according to his financial disclosures, but it is also known to be struggling financially.
Conflict: The White House claimed that the Trump Organization would bill for the event at-cost, but few details were provided. In the past, the Trump Organization has made claims about “at cost” charges that haven’t panned out, and Eric Trump did not respond to a question about whether the TrumpOrganization would bill the government for renovations related to the event. Either way, the event would have provided invaluable international publicity to President Trump’s resort.
Administration Action: The $900 million sale of a federally subsidised Brooklyn housing complex in 2018 was subject to approval by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD approved the sale despite congressional pushback over conflict of interest concerns centered on President Trump’s financial interest in the development.
Trump’s Business Interest: President Trump owned a four percent stake in the development. The sale earned him an estimated $20 million in income.
Conflict: An agency of the executive branch, which President Trump sits at the top of, made this lucrative sale possible.
Administration Action: The Trump administration rolled back an Obama-era rule that enhanced protections for wetlands and smaller waterways by including them under the definition of “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS). His new rule will cut back on environmental protections from the 1972 Clean Water Act, along with Obama’s 2015 regulation.
Trump’s Business Interest: Trump owns twelve golf courses in the U.S. which account for $590 million of his net-worth and must comply with environmental regulations.
Conflict: Now, the Trump administration has the power to create its own rule regarding which waters should be protected and may make the rule favorable to golf course owners. The new rule will decrease the amount of federally protected waterways, easing restrictions on how property developers and golf course owners like the Trump Organizations dispose of pollutants. The National Golf Course Owners Association in particular has lauded the rollback of WOTUS.
Administration Action: In 2017, the State Department allowed foreign governments to rent or renew leases in Trump World Tower without submitting the lease requests to Congress, despite the 1982 Foreign Missions Act which requires foreign governments to get State Department clearance for any lease of property in the United States. The emoluments clause bans U.S. officials from accepting payments or gifts from foreign governments without congressional consent.
Trump’s Business Interest: Trump World Tower is part of Trump’s real estate empire. In 2018, Trump reported nearly $15 million in income from the Trump Corporation, which manages Trump World Tower along with other Trump buildings.
Conflict: By bypassing Congress in exercising its authority to consent, the State Department cut out a part of a constitutional process that could have restricted foreign business at his properties, condoning the potential violation of the emoluments clause.
Administration Action: President Trump signed a resolution repealing an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule that authorized the agency to cite employers for serious workplace injuries and illnesses for up to five years after the incident, in effect reducing that period to six months.
Trump’s Business Interest: President Trump owns a construction company, Mobile Payroll Construction, that completes construction work at his properties. In the past, he has been cited by OSHA for safety violations at his work sites. In 2008, one of the Trump Organization’s contractors was fined $104,000, later reduced to $44,000, after a construction worker was killed while working on Trump SoHo hotel condominium.
Conflict: The rollback may reduce overall penalties imposed on affected businesses of the type that Trump owns. It fits into a broader effort to decrease regulation of the construction industry and of worker protections.
Administration Action: The EPA issued a final order allowing the continued use of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide used in the agriculture industry to kill insects that is also used by golf courses. The chemical has been linked to developmental issues in children.
Trump’s Business Interest: Trump owns twelve golf courses in the United States that make up a large portion of his financial portfolio and must comply with EPA regulations.
Conflict: Golf courses were a top non-agricultural opponent of the ban. An industry letter, signed by a golf course lobbying group that includes more than 20 Trump employees on its membership rolls, was circulated opposing banning the pesticide. Pesticides have posed problems for the Trump Organization’s golf course development plans before.
Administration Action: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 included unlimited tax breaks for those who invest in any of 8,700 low-income areas designated as “Opportunity Zones.”
Trump’s Business Interest: When these were passed, the Trump Organization was involved in developing a hotel in Mississippi located in an Opportunity Zone. It has since been abandoned for unrelated reasons. President Trump’s Philadelphia golf course is also in an Opportunity Zone.
Conflict: Not only could the Trump Organization have received major tax benefits, it could also have used the program to build more luxury housing in neighborhoods that are already gentrifying. While Trump National Golf Course Philadelphia was built before the bill passed, a company building a new restaurant on the property could qualify for tax breaks.
Administration Action: In 2019, the Labor Department proposed immigration rules that would make it easier for employers to apply for H-2A visas, a nonimmigrant visa program that allows US agricultural industry employers to bring in foreign workers to fill temporary or seasonal agricultural jobs when employers face a shortage of domestic workers.
Trump’s Business Interest: Trump draws income from a vineyard in Charlottesville that has sought permission to hire temporary farm laborers under the H-2A visa program.
Conflict: Trump Winery could more easily hire workers under the H-2A visa program through the simplification of the process. H-2A visas make it easier for employers to find labor for seasonal or other temporary work in cases where they’re struggling to do so. Trump Winery has reportedly struggled to find American workers.
Administration Action: Last spring, the Trump Labor Department announced that it would release an additional 30,000 H-2B visas, which are temporary work visas for seasonal non-agricultural employees.
Trump’s Business Interest: Several hotels and resorts owned by the Trump Organization and other Trump branded properties employ H-2B workers. His Mar-a-Lago club applied for 78 H-2B visas in 2018, an increase over the 70 workers the Labor Department permitted Mar-a-Lago to hire under the program in 2017. The Labor Department also gave permission in 2017 for the Trump National Golf Clubs in Jupiter, Florida, and Briarcliff Manor, New York, to hire 16 and 8 workers, respectively, under the H-2B visa program.The Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida also submitted a request to hire 10 workers in 2017 under the program. In 2018, the resort requested permission to hire 37 H-2B workers.
Conflict: Trump businesses could apply for some of the additional visas and hire a larger number of seasonal workers at his hotels and resorts. These may keep Trump businesses from having to offer higher wages in order to attract American workers to the positions.
Administration Action: The Trump Justice Department declined to defend a Labor Department rule that required employers to pay overtime to people who earn less than $47,476 per year and work more than 40 hours a week. This rule would impact businesses including those in the hotel and restaurant sector.
Trump’s Business Interest: The Trump Organization operates seven U.S. hotels with restaurants that employ potentially eligible workers.
Conflict: It’s unclear how many Trump Organization employees would have been impacted by the rule, but undocumented workers at Trump properties have said that they were asked to work unpaid overtime, including in a Trump restaurant. Interest groups representing hotel and restaurant employers such as the American Hotel and Lodging Association and the National Restaurant Association opposed it.
Administration Action: In 2017, the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs issued a memo immediately halting an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rule that required businesses with more than 100 employees to include race, ethnicity, and gender in their annual reports that are used by the EEOC to identify discriminatory pay practices.
Conflict: Halting this rule makes policing pay discrimination more difficult and reduces the compliance costs for large businesses generally.
Administration Action: The Department of the Interior planned to implement a rule that would allow the National Park Service to charge groups who wished to protest on the National Mall and near the White House. One of those areas was the sidewalk in front of the Trump International Hotel D.C. Challengers of the rule asserted that the fees would be higher than most grassroots organizations could pay.
Trump’s Business Interest: President Trump owns the Trump International Hotel in D.C.
Conflict: The rule would benefit the president’s hotel by restricting public demonstrations that might take place in front of it, possibly deterring potential customers from visiting it.
Administration Action: In November 2019, the Interior Department broke with 25 years of precedent when it loosened environmental regulations to allow wealthier coastal communities to take sand from protected ecosystems to improve their beaches.
Trump’s Business Interest: President Trump owns or otherwise draws income from several resorts in south Florida—including the Trump National Doral near Miami,from which he reported income of more than $75 million in 2018.
Conflict: Trump’s Florida resorts face the possibility of beach erosion, especially considering the occurrence of extreme weather in the area, such as Hurricane Irma in 2017. This change in policy could allow for Trump’s beachfront properties to replenish their sand at the expense of other ecosystems.
Administration Action: The FBI and the Justice Department’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section in Washington are investigating Deutsche Bank’s potential money-laundering violations as well as transactions linked to Jared Kushner.
Conflict: Trump’s position gives him influence over how agencies within his administration regulate a bank that he does business with.
Trump’s Business Interest: Trump reported five mortgages and loans on his 2019 public financial disclosure at rates that tend to track the rates set by the Fed: the Prime rate, and the LIBOR. In sum, about $340 million of President Trump’s debt is linked to Fed rates
Administration Action: President Trump announced on February 6, 2020 that his administration would scrap decades old plans to turn Yucca Mountain in Nevada into a nuclear waste depository. Prior to the 2018 election, then-Nevada Senator Dean Heller reportedly conveyed to President Trump that if the federal government followed through on transporting nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, it would first travel by train within half a mile of his Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas. According to the New York Times, “It was in the last year, and after Mr. Trump’s understanding of the potential proximity of nuclear waste to his property, that the president focused on ensuring that everyone in his administration got the message about where he stood.” It’s not clear, however, whether it was true that the waste would be transported along that exact route, and abandoning the plans for the nuclear waste site may have instead been driven by an electoral concern. The proposed nuclear waste repository was unpopular among Nevadans.
Trump’s Business Interest: President Trump’s Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada may have been near the route for relocating waste to Yucca Mountain.
Conflict: If former Senator Heller’s claim was true, transporting nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain may have resulted in noisy and unsightly train travel near President Trump’s Las Vegas hotel, potentially putting off guests and leading to a decrease in bookings.
Administration Action: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers abruptly relocated a federal beach-replenishment project from Long Island, New York to Palm Beach, Florida. Spokespeople for the Corps admitted that the Palm Beach project was not an emergency but claimed the decision to move crews and dredges away from the New York project was made by the contractors. The Corps has made assurances that the Long Island project will be completed as planned and by the June 19 deadline. The dredging project was located in Long Island in part to prevent future damage from extreme weather events after Hurricane Sandy devastated the region.
Trump’s Business Interest: A portion of the beaches to which the dredging project was relocated are less than a mile away from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club.
Conflict: Relocating the dredging project near Mar-a-Lago may aid President Trump’s private club while another location with a greater need remains at risk.
Administration Action: Trump imposed tariffs on $7.5 billion of European luxury goods, including a 25 percent tariff on wine from several European countries, including France. In December, an administration official threatened to increase tariffs on sparkling wine to up to 100 percent in retaliation for a French tax on American internet companies.
Trump’s Business Interest: In 2018, Trump reported as much as $3 million in income connected to Trump Winery. The winery produces about 36,000 cases of wine annually, including producing sparkling wine. It is reportedly operated by Eric Trump but leases its land from a company owned by President Trump, who also draws income from the restaurant and hotel on its premises.
Conflict: Though there aren’t exact estimates as to how much Trump stands to gain from these new tariffs, they would make some European wines more expensive and ostensibly boost sales of American wines, like those produced by Trump Winery.