- By Christine Stapleton Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
While much about President Donald Trump’s finances remains unknown — he has not released his tax returns as other presidents have done — one thing is certain: Trump’s private companies have profited from his public service.
Trump’s campaign committee — Donald J. Trump for President — alone has spent at least $4.7 million at Trump properties and businesses around the nation since the beginning of 2016, according to federal campaign finance data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Those data also show the Republican National Committee spent at least $474,202 at Trump businesses nationwide.
Just in Palm Beach County, Trump’s campaign committee paid $584,293 to the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Trump International Golf Club west of West Palm Beach and Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter during and after his run for president, according to data obtained by The Palm Beach Post from campaign finance records, financial disclosure forms, a local lawsuit and other news reports.
This includes $488,931 paid by the committee on May 18, 2016, the day after Trump’s campaign signed a fundraising agreement with the RNC that enabled both to jointly raise and spend campaign funds. The payment was for “facility rental and catering” at the three clubs:
Since Trump was elected in November 2016, the Republican National Committee has paid an additional $63,081 for events at Mar-a-Lago and the golf clubs. This includes $62,774 that the RNC paid to Mar-a-Lago for facility rental and catering on Jan. 19 of this year — the day after a group of women called the Trumpettes hosted a party honoring the president at the club and the day before a joint fundraiser there for his re-election.
Trump can expect another check soon from his re-election campaign and the RNC for joint fundraisers held March 2-3 at Mar-a-Lago.
Is it OK for the president’s campaign and political party to do business with the president’s businesses?
“We’ve never in the modern history of a president put these questions to the test,” said Robert Maguire, a political non- profit investigator for the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan, non-profit that for 35 years has tracked money in politics.
“I think the legality hasn’t been tested yet,” Maguire said.
But he did say that he found it particularly alarming that the Republican Party, which controls both the House and Senate, is hosting events and spending money at Trump properties that they were not patronizing before Trump was elected.
For example, last year the RNC’s Spring Donor Retreat was held at a hotel in Palm Beach. This year, the president spoke last weekend at a dinner for the RNC’s Spring Donor Retreat and attended a “roundtable with Republican National Committee supporters,” both held at Mar-a-Lago.
“It wasn’t that they always had events in Trump properties,” Maguire said. “That they are now spending hundreds of thousands of dollars that the president’s companies will profit from is kind of alarming.”
After his election, the president relinquished management and leadership of his companies to a trust run by his sons and a longtime company executive.
The move placed the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach and golf clubs in suburban West Palm Beach and Jupiter under the control of Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and company executive Allen Weisselberg. Because the president did not sell off his stake or divest from his businesses, he still has a financial stake in them.
Those businesses generate hefty incomes. The Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan non-profit that tracks money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy, culled figures from Trump’s 2017 personal financial disclosure forms, which the president voluntarily filed with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics in June 2017.
Because the forms are only meant to reveal any potential conflicts of interests, filers are only required to disclose ranges for their assets, up to $50 million, according to the center. Trump disclosed nine companies incorporated in Palm Beach County. Nationwide, he also disclosed 23 assets worth $50 million.
However, for some assets, including some local Trump businesses, exact income figures are included.
For the 16-month period between January 2016 and April 2017, Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter reported $20.1 million in income; TNGC Jupiter Management LLC, $468,346; and Trump International Golf Club in suburban West Palm Beach, $18.4 million — for a total of $39 million.
Mar-a-Lago reported $37.2 million in income for the same period, according to data compiled by the center. Over a similar 16 month period for the prior year, (January 2015 to April 2016) the club only brought in $29.7 million. That’s a 25 percent increase in income, according to the financial disclosure forms.
But the center’s data do not include how much it costs to run those business, so their profit margins are not publicly known.
However, The Post uncovered recent costs of operating Mar-a-Lago in documents Trump had to disclose in September 2016 as part of a 2015 lawsuit he filed against Palm Beach County claiming air traffic from Palm Beach International Airport was damaging the club’s 90-year-old buildings, resulting in increased repairs and a loss of business income.
Among the documents buried in the lawsuit: the club’s annual financial reports, dating back to 2007.
Mar-a-Lago is the opulent Palm Beach estate completed by cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and her husband, E.F. Hutton in 1928.
It is said that all the decorative gold leaf in the country was used to gild the mansion’s ceilings and walls when it was built, but the estate was in neglect when Trump paid $10 million for it in 1985.
In 1993, during hearings to convert Mar-a-Lago into private club, Trump’s attorney lugged a large box of receipts to a meeting of the Palm Beach Town Council, saying it cost Trump $7,000-a-day to maintain the mansion.
According to documents filed in Trump’s 2015 lawsuit, the costs of running Mar-a-Lago in the fiscal year that ended July 2016 — with its relentless upkeep and the maintenance of its swimming pools, tennis courts and spa — gobbled up $12 million. Among the expenses: $6.2 million for food and beverages; $1.5 million for building and grounds; and $810,154 for the spa.
But the club’s earnings for that year were only $20.6 million, leaving the Mar-a-Lago Club with a net of $8.6 million in fiscal 2016.
Included in the earnings are $5.8 million in membership dues, $3.4 million for membership initiation and $9.1 million in food and beverages sold.
As noted above the 2016 earnings were less than what the club brought in after Trump was elected president. But because he dropped the lawsuit against the county shortly after his election in November 2016, Trump will no longer file annual income statements, and it seems unlikely that a similar Mar-a-Lago profit estimate will become available for the year after Trump became president.