Trump Organization: "It's impractical to completely identify all patronage"

As we all know, Trump is - first and foremost - a businessman. Not a very good one, in my opinion, but he's still a businessman. Trump does business internationally, through licensing deals and through the Trump Organization's various hotels and resorts. An issue that has remained since before Trump's inauguration is how Trump would distance himself from his businesses. In short, he has not. Trump has put his sons in charge of the Trump Organization in a "Revocable Trust". This has been long lambasted as insufficient distance from the Trump empire, and in the trust agreement Trump can still pull money from his empire without disclosing it. But that's not the biggest issue at hand, that has always been the subject of the Emoluments Clause and how to navigate that when the leader of the nation hasn't fully divested himself from his businesses.

The Title of Nobility Clause - also known as the Emoluments Clause - prohibits the federal government from granting titles of nobility and restricts members of the government from receiving gifts, emoluments, offices or titles from foreign states without Congressional consent.

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

The conflict is when Trump's businesses do business with foreign officials and how that money is then handled, especially when Trump decides to do governmental business at the Mar-a-lago resort - affectionately called "The Southern White House" by Trump himself - in Palm Beach, Florida.

A while back, Trump had promised that all foreign government profits from would be donated to the US Treasury, though Trump and his attorneys have said they don't believe he's required to do so, the Trump Organization has made some donations. Nobody is entirely clear just how much they've donated, though, the Treasury has confirmed receipt of checks, but has not disclosed the amount. According to George Sorial, executive vice president and chief compliance counsel at the Trump Organization, they gave more than $150k in profits earned in '17 from foreign governments to the Treasury. Personally, I don't trust Sorial's word, but that's just me.

Now, the latest news is that the Trump Organization seems to be telling Congress that finding out exactly how much of its profits come from foreign governments is more trouble than it's worth. Responding to a document request from the House Oversight Committee, the Trump Organization sent a copy of an 8-page pamphlet detailing how it planned to track payments it receives from foreign governments at its many hotels, golf courses, and restaurants across the globe. While the Trump Organization said they'd set aside all money collected from customers that identify themselves as representing a foreign government, it wouldn't take any more intensive efforts to determine if a payment would violate the Emoluments clause. In its policy pamphlet, the Trump Organization wrote

To fully and completely identify all patronage at our properties by customer type is impractical in the service industry and putting forth a policy that requires all guests to identify themselves would impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand

This has raised concerns over what the Trump Organization defines as "reasonably identifiable", and that the Organization is only holding money from those who identify themselves as representing a foreign government. This potentially leaves Trump with limited options, one of which is to actually fully divest himself from his businesses - of which Trump will most likely never do - or ask Congress for a different arrangement.

My personal opinion is that this is the cost of business when you're so closely linked to the leadership of a nation. Were Trump to actually distance himself from his businesses - i.e. not have them controlled by his own goddamn son and most certainly not have the power to pull money from them whenever he wants - then I don't think I'd have (m)any complaints. But he hasn't, and likely won't, so this is a pretty big issue here. Trump and his attorneys have argued that the office of the president is not subject to the Emoluments Clause or other conflict-of-interest laws, but it's absolutely asinine to think that the Founding Fathers and Framers had this intention when they drafted the Constitution. If they cannot count, to the penny, every single dollar earned from foreign governments, they shouldn't be doing business abroad and hosting government officials.

Meaning money laundering. Trump Org is a front for Mafia money laundering and they'd really rather us not know that.

Silentpony:
Meaning money laundering. Trump Org is a front for Mafia money laundering and they'd really rather us not know that.

It's official. American government has fallen to 3rd World standards.

Dr. Thrax:
Not a very good one, in my opinion, but he's still a businessman.

Libertarian take: if 7 out of 10 businesses go broke within 10 years, it just means you have to blew less than 8 businesses to be a good businessman.

CaitSeith:

Silentpony:
Meaning money laundering. Trump Org is a front for Mafia money laundering and they'd really rather us not know that.

It's official. American government has fallen to 3rd World standards.

No, we're good at first world. Even first world nations have mobster stooges, and that's all Trump is. A comic idiot stooge for mobsters.

Another thing Trump hypocritically criticized Hillary about.

And nothing will happen. It's just yet another "any other president in modern history would be eviscerated" event.

There's two observations here.

First: when the Trump Organisation says it's logistically impractical to properly regulate the foreign money flowing through their hotels and clubs, they are technically correct. It would be highly impractical. And for Trump to divest himself of all his assets would, to be perfectly fair, result in a net loss of wealth for him as he's forced to liquidate his many real estate holdings, probably at a sub-optimal price. Anyone worth over a billion dollars is going to have too many financial interests to really even keep track of, much less easily liquidate.

Which leads to the second observation: this is why billionaires should not run for office. It is simply impossible for someone to be that wealthy and not have some conflicts of interest somewhere.

Consider Wilbur Ross, the billionaire Commerce Secretary and penny-pinching grifter, who is entangled in numerous potentially-illegal conflicts of interest, such as the short sale of his stock in a Russian shipping company days before a New York Times report - that Ross had been forewarned about - caused its stock to drop.

Or consider Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the Interior. His extensive real estate interests in his home town of Whitefish meant that when Halliburton offered to buy one of his properties, Zinke was put in the awkward position of literally negotiating a real estate deal with the company whose oil drilling that he is supposed to be regulating, but isn't. There's also the question of how a two-man electrical company from Whitefish managed to briefly land a $300 million contract to rebuild the Puerto Rican electrical grid.

There's also Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education and also a billionaire. She holds over a hundred separate financial interests in the education sector, mostly regarding charter schools and Christian colleges tied to her extremely-wealthy and extremely well-connected family. And there's Carl Icahn, who served shortly as an economic adviser to the President and who is also a billionaire, who used his short time in the White House to brazenly pursue the interests of his own investment firm.

And that's just the rich ones! We all know about Scott Pruitt's long record of incredibly petty graft, or how Tom Price somehow spent a million dollars on air travel in just a year, or how Ben Carson spent thirty thousand dollars on a dining set. Here's a lesser-known one - Barry Myers, Trump's nominee to run the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is the CEO and co-owner of a company called AccuWeather. AccuWeather provides people - usually news stations - with paid weather forecasts. There's a problem with that business model: the National Weather Service, a sub-division of the NOAA, releases its forecast data to the public for free, on the basis that they're generating it anyway with taxpayer funds, so why not? Why, because of the competitive disadvantage this presents companies like AccuWeather, says Myers, who has spent decades lobbying to prevent the NWS from releasing its forecast data. Now he's been nominated to run the same government agency that he thinks ought to be wrapped up and shut down. (Hilariously, it turns out AccuWeather's paid weather forecasts are just the NWS forecasts, repackaged and sold like bottled water.)

The point being: rich people shouldn't be in politics. It's just impossible to expect extremely rich people to avoid financial conflicts of interest when they have in most cases spent their entire life accumulating such interests. It's unreasonable to expect rich people - most of whom are obsessed with making money, because that is how you get rich - to suddenly stop caring about making money once they put their hand on a Bible. These are greedy people. They're liars, cheaters, grifters, corporate raiders and trust fund kids. Their own mother wouldn't trust them with twenty dollars. That's who they are; it's in their nature. They don't belong in politics. Politics is a field where you serve the public interest, not your own. If you're not willing to leave your wealth behind when you get into it, you're frankly not qualified to perform the role the you seek.

Silentpony:

CaitSeith:

Silentpony:
Meaning money laundering. Trump Org is a front for Mafia money laundering and they'd really rather us not know that.

It's official. American government has fallen to 3rd World standards.

No, we're good at first world. Even first world nations have mobster stooges, and that's all Trump is. A comic idiot stooge for mobsters.

Only third world nations have mobster stooges as the head of the government. Enjoy it!

CaitSeith:

Silentpony:

CaitSeith:

It's official. American government has fallen to 3rd World standards.

No, we're good at first world. Even first world nations have mobster stooges, and that's all Trump is. A comic idiot stooge for mobsters.

Only third world nations have mobster stooges as the head of the government. Enjoy it!

Got some bad news for you there...

I say the same when I do my tax return - it would be impractical, given the low level of tax I'd like to pay, to track and declare all my income.

 

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