Donald Trump might be in it for the money.
According to Don Lee and Jim Puzzanghera writing in the Chicago Tribune, “If elected, nothing under current federal law would force Trump to sell his companies or stay out of their business decisions.”
If not for the money, why would Trump bother to run?
To put it mildly, he has never been known for his dedication to public service. Nor is he known for his civic-mindedness. If he’s elected, he’ll be the only president never to have served in the government, military or court system. He began his career by destroying communities in New York City with his super-developments and has gone on to do the same around the world.
Trump’s campaign itself is making him richer. Because his name and his antics saturate the media 24/7, sales of his products are soaring and his hotels are filled worldwide.
When he won the primaries in Michigan and Mississippi last March, his victory speech was not about his policies; it was about his products. He displayed Trump red, white and rose wines, cases of Trump water and two butcher blocks heaped with Trump steaks.
It’s true that Trump has lost some deals because other business people are disgusted by his xenophobic, racist, misogynistic statements. Recently, no corporation would sponsor a World Golf Championship event at one of his golf courses, so the PGA moved it elsewhere.
By and large, however, Trump is doing very well for himself.
Many of our presidents, from George Washington to FDR to JFK have been very rich, but Trump is in a league by himself. He would be the first president to preside over a global business empire.
According to Lee and Puzzanghera, Trump is an executive trustee or member of about 480 corporations, partnerships, limited liability companies or foreign entities. He owns golf courses, country clubs, hotels, casinos and ice rinks as well as companies selling steaks, magazines, water and wine.
What he’s making by campaigning is peanuts compared to what his haul could be if elected.
Of course, he would fight to change tax laws and business regulations to benefit billionaires like himself.
But that’s not the worst of it.
“There are well-established conflict-of-interest rules for other executive branch officials and less-strict ones for members of Congress,” Lee and Puzzanghera state, “… [but] in a 2004 report on conflicts of interest in the executive branch, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service noted that the criminal statute requiring officials to recuse themselves from government matters in which they have a financial interest ‘expressly excludes the president and vice president.'”
Conflict of interest laws would ban actions Trump might take as president to benefit his financial interests, but there are no laws that would prevent Trump the businessman from taking an action that would benefit from policies or programs being passed by Trump the president.
To avoid the appearance of conflict of interest, presidents have generally put their investments in blind trusts, but that’s only a tradition; not a law.
The idea of a blind trustee is to have stocks and other assets managed, bought and sold by an independent third party without the knowledge of owner.
Trump has said he will have his children manage his enterprises if he became president, although according to Lee and Puzzanghera, the Office of Government Ethics specifically states that a blind trustee cannot be a relative.
Anyway, a blind trust would probably not work in Trump’s case. Too much of his wealth is tied up in properties and ventures bearing his name. For example, even if Trump turns his many Trump Towers over to a blind trust, how can he forget he owns them?
“He cannot put businesses he owns in a blind trust and suddenly get a case of amnesia,” attorney Kenneth Gross, an expert in such matters, told the Chicago Tribune.
“The potential conflict would come,” Gross said, “if a future Trump administration, for example, declared a parcel next to a Trump golf course as public land, causing the value of his golf property to triple.”
Or what if, Gross asks, “a President Trump had dealings with a leader of a foreign country where businessman Trump operates a casino?”
The latter is not a “what if.” It’s a reality.
Kevin Sullivan reports in the Washington Post that Trump has hundreds of millions of dollars worth of interest in the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Azerbaijan. He sold the use of his name to Anar Mammadov, whose family is part of an oil-soaked oligarchy plagued by corruption.
At present, the project, located in Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku, stands only partially completed. It’s stuck on hold because of the plummeting price of oil.
If Trump is elected president, he will have a tremendous incentive to continue America’s dependence on oil in hopes that prices will rise and with it his tower in Azerbaijan.
“Trump has not said precisely how he would separate his personal financial interests overseas from his administration’s policies,” Sullivan writes.
That non-answer alone is more than enough reason to work hard to make sure Trump is not allowed anywhere near the Oval Office.
Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP