Why tracking government spending on Trump-owned businesses is hard

Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons) 

The Old Post Office Building, now the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., is just one entity owned by the president that could be the beneficiary of federal spending.

Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform are asking agencies to report on any federal spending on products and services connected to businesses either owned or affiliated with Trump-related business holdings.

The move came in a series of letters sent Aug. 8 to the heads of 23 large federal agencies. No committee Republicans joined in the letters.

The request may be complicated by the sheer number of President Donald Trump's business ventures.

A June 2017 financial disclosure report listed that Trump holds positions in over 550 non-governmental organizations and has assets in or collects income from over 190 entities, according to a Scott Amey general counsel for Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan government watchdog group.

Amey noted that unraveling payments to this complex and often confusing network is difficult and makes financial transparency hard to achieve. "It's one of the many reasons why divesting and establishing a genuine blind trust were the better options for taxpayers,” he said.  Trump, however, established a revocable trust that allowed him ability to withdraw monies as any time.

Citing press reports that federal funds have flowed to Trump-related businesses via State Department, the Department of Defense and other federal agencies, the letters from the House committee warn that the president's business assets put federal employees in "compromised positions when they work on official activities that potentially create financial benefits for the President or his family members."

For example, $15,000 is said to have been spent by the State Department in February at a Trump property. DOD is renting space in Trump Tower, the letter noted.

Federal expenditures on lodging, meeting space and other services at Trump properties took place as a regular order of business before the hotelier, developer and reality TV star ascended to the presidency. Federal contracting databases indicate spending at the Trump Taj Mahal and the Trump Marina Hotel in Atlantic City among others by agencies during the Obama administration.

Amey supports the committee's request for accountability of public dollars spent to benefit Trump holdings. "We need to get an idea of their [departmental] spending and ensure that it is necessary and reasonable” he said.

Amey also voiced concerns about other costs related to promotion of the Trump brand.

"It's one thing to travel to his properties," observed Amey of the president, who has traveled to one of his own Trump-branded properties on 11 of 28 weekends since taking office. However, he said, "it's another thing to do so and force the taxpayers to pick up the escalating bills."

About the Author

Ben Berliner is an editorial fellow at FCW. He is a 2017 graduate of Kenyon College, and has interned at the Center for Responsive Politics and at Sunlight Foundation.

He can be contacted at bberliner@fcw.com.

Click here for previous articles by Berliner.


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