New light is being shed on the dirty secret of the Trump administration – how the president enriches himself and his family while privately meeting with private individuals who want to lobby him on legislation, win government contracts or influence policy decisions – thanks to a new investigation by USA Today.
Since taking office, Donald Trump has blatantly flouted all of the rules, laws, and traditions meant to ensure the president will make decisions fairly and without regard for his personal interests or to enrich himself thanks to his elected position.
Even as Trump has denied he is cashing in on his high office, he has done everything possible to hide his activities and decrease transparency around how he conducts business and makes decisions.
Beyond refusing to release his taxes, that has included refusing to release White House visitor logs – unlike President Obama – or who he meets with during his frequent visits to the private clubs he and his family still own.
That is especially true for the Trump-owned golf clubs where the president refuses to admit when he plays golf or the names of those who he plays with. The clubs are incredibly lucrative, USA Today reports, bringing in about $600 million in 2015 and 2016, according to Trump’s government mandated financial disclosure reports.
Trump and his company refuse to make public the membership lists of private clubs owned by The Trump Organization but USA Today was able to access lists of golfers using public sources where players register their handicap, where they played and their scores.
“Some members find themselves in close proximity to a president who has visited his golf clubs on about a quarter of the days that he has been in office,” reports USA Today.
The investigation focused on the three Trump owned clubs – in Florida, New Jersey and Virginia – where the president most frequently goes to play golf.
It found that at least 50 executives of companies that profit from federal contracts and 21 lobbyists and trade group offices are members, and two-thirds played golf there on one of the 58 days the president was present.
That includes executives of defense and technology contractors, a lobbyist for South Korea, a lawyer helping Saudi Arabia fight claims from the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and the leader of the pesticide trade group that successfully got the Trump administration to reverse a ban on an insecticide scientists have linked to health risks.
The members also include a lobbyist for U.S. and Canadian airports, CEOs of companies in industries regulated by the Federal government, and a Dell Computer executive who sells information technology services to the government.
The cost to be a member of one of Trump’s clubs is beyond the reach of most people. Initiation fees start at $100,000 and require thousands more in monthly and annual payments.
While Trump, in theory, has turned over operation of his business empire to his sons Eric and Donald Jr., he is still regularly consulted and continues to personally profit from their success.
It is legal for these rich business people and lobbyists to join a Trump club, and several told USA Today that they do not use their membership to discuss government business.
Still, even having access to the president can help them keep high paying jobs and win new contracts from companies, individuals, and countries who want to whisper in the president’s ear.
It apparently isn’t very difficult, reports USA Today: “Many describe Trump as surprisingly approachable, welcoming advice on everything from the state of the tee boxes to the course of his administration.”
Even if it is legal, it raises red flags among ethics experts. “We’re all in new territory,” said Walter Shaub, who resigned earlier this year as head of the Government Ethics office over Trump’s all too cozy arrangements. “We never thought we’d see anyone push the outer limits in this way.”
There is anecdotal evidence that rubbing elbows with Trump or sharing a golf outing, can be helpful. On his 100th day in office, notes USA Today, Trump visited a factory which gets government defense contracts that is run by a member of his New Jersey golf club.
Ed Russo, a member of the Bedminster, New Jersey golf clubs, who has worked as an environmental consultant for Trump golf courses, said that after he plays 18 holes the president can often be found in the clubhouse where he regularly poses for photos and listens to advice or comments from whoever runs into him.
“Access to this president,: says Russo, “has been different than it has been in the past, and everybody thinks they have an opportunity to provide information that could be helpful to the country.”
Or more to the point, helpful to their business or a company or country they represent.
Trump has shown that he is loyal to his friends, to business partners, to those who support his sometimes off the wall decisions, while he is cavalier about doing what is best for the most people, for the country, or in the case of the climate crisis, for the world.
That is a lot of reasons to be wary of Trump’s claims that he is not influenced by those wealthy individuals, lobbyists, executives and others with an agenda who can buy access by paying for Trump club memberships.
There is a stink of corruption around Trump and his businesses that his secrecy and lack of transparency makes even more disgusting. This USA Today report only adds to the sense that Trump and his presidency do not pass the smell test.