Republicans spend more than $4 million at Trump properties

Republican candidates and campaign committees have spent more than $4 million at hotel, golf and vineyard properties that bear President TrumpDonald John TrumpUtah Lieutenant Gov. Cox leads Huntsman in close governor's race Trump tweets 'we all miss' Ailes after swiping at Fox Former NFL player Burgess Owens wins Utah GOP primary MORE’s name since he was inaugurated in 2017.

More than three dozen members of Congress have held fundraisers or spent the night at Trump properties, according to a review of filings made with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) over the last two years.

More than a quarter of the money spent has come from Trump’s own campaign, which has paid his businesses nearly $1.5 million over that span, both for rent and for fundraisers. 

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The Republican National Committee (RNC) has spent more than $1.1 million at Trump-branded properties in both Washington and Florida.

Watchdog groups have raised concerns over the propriety of Trump profiting off businesses as foreign governments and corporate interest groups currying favor in Washington book rooms at Trump hotels — including Trump’s hotel in Washington, D.C.

Attorneys general in Washington, D.C., and Maryland have sued the federal government, alleging the Trump International Hotel in Washington puts the president in violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.

There is nothing in the Constitution that bans a campaign from spending money at a company that benefits a candidate. But those good-government groups say the mixture of business and politics creates a combustible potion.

“The behavior itself is corrupting, and it’s creating corruption and the appearance of corruption,” said Meredith McGehee, the executive director of Issue One, a group that advocates for ethics in government.

The Trump campaign and the RNC said they did not see anything wrong with hosting events at Trump’s properties. Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman, said the campaign “pays market rates for venues and we report all expenditures as required by law to the FEC.”

RNC spokesman Michael Joyce said the party’s donors “enjoy visiting Trump properties, and have also pointed to the security, convenience, and price as factors” in the decision to hold formal RNC meetings at the hotels.

Republican spending at Trump-owned properties has ballooned since the president took office.

A review by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a watchdog organization, found campaigns spent only $468,382 at Trump properties in the dozen years before he announced his run for president in 2015.

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“This isn’t a continuation of a trend. It’s not as though Trump properties were a draw for fundraisers in the past,” said Robert Maguire, CREW’s research director.

“Trump came into office presenting an unprecedented set of conflicts of interest stemming from his refusal to divest from his businesses. What this spending shows is that far from being a check on these conflicts of interest, his political allies embraced it and fueled it,” he added. “He’s actively trying to profit off of the presidency.

The Trump International Hotel in the Old Post Office has become a particularly hot property for Republicans raising money in Washington. Campaigns and party committees have spent more than $2 million at the hotel, according to FEC reports. 

Trump’s public financial disclosure report shows that political groups accounted for at least 3.4 percent of the revenue taken in by Trump International Hotel, according to CREW.

The big spenders include America First Action, the super PAC that will back Trump’s reelection bid. Super PACs cannot work directly with campaign committees, but they can host fundraisers anywhere they like; America First Action has spent more than $450,000 at Trump properties since its inception.

“Trump Organization properties are world-class venues in destination locations that our supporters want to visit and are excited to attend events at,” said Brian Walsh, America First Action’s president. “The staff is always respectful, professional and provides best-in-class service.”

Walsh said he was not concerned that hosting events at Trump properties provided an appearance of impropriety.

A 21-page events menu reviewed by The Hill shows private breakfast events start at $42 per person, with a minimum of 25 guests — and an option to add an omelet station at $20 a head. Lunches begin at $60 per person, and multicourse plated dinners begin at $92 per person, before beverages. 

Republican fundraisers said those prices are in line with other popular haunts around Washington, and the hotel requires a minimum charge of about $1,800 for a private space. The hotel adds something other venues cannot: The opportunity to rub elbows with top administration officials — and maybe even the president himself — who hang out in its bar and restaurant.

“For anyone looking to impress donors, that would be the perfect place to choose, especially for donors who are not from D.C. and appreciate the novelty of a capitalist president,” said one Republican fundraiser, who asked for anonymity to discuss the hotel.

Trump Tower in New York has pulled in more than $1 million in fees from political committees. The vast majority of those dollars come from the Trump campaign itself, which rents space there.

Campaigns and party committees have spent $711,000 at Trump National Doral Miami, where the RNC hosted a meeting last year. FEC reports show state Republican Party leaders from New Hampshire, Minnesota, New Jersey, Washington, Tennessee, Arizona, Wyoming, Nebraska, Connecticut, Iowa, Virginia, Alabama, Nevada, West Virginia, New Mexico, Texas, Vermont, Kentucky, Montana and Illinois all spent donor dollars to stay at the Doral property.

Trump National Doral also hosted the Republican Governors Association for a meeting in May 2017. The group, which is not required to file reports with the FEC, spent $412,000 to host its meeting. It signed a contract to host its event at Doral in February 2015, before Trump announced he would run.

Earlier presidents worked hard to mitigate even the appearance of impropriety. While in office, Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterTrump's mark on federal courts could last decades WSJ editorial board tees off on Trump: Trends pointing to 'historic repudiation' Why Joe Biden should pledge to serve just one term MORE put his Georgia peanut farm in a blind trust. George W. Bush put his investments in a blind trust. Barack Obama did not even refinance his Chicago home while in office when interest rates dropped, for fear of the appearance that he would get a favorable rate not available to the public.

Trump has not taken the same approach. He declined to divest himself from his business, though he did hand day-to-day control to his sons Donald Jr. and Eric.

Several of the biggest spenders at Trump-branded properties share a top consultant, Maple Creek Consulting. The firm is registered to Samantha Menh, a Republican fundraiser who ran the Great America Committee, Vice President Pence’s political arm. The Great America Committee has spent more than $220,000 at Trump-branded properties; Pence attended nine events at Trump properties in 2018, according to CREW.

FEC reports show Menh also worked for Protect the House, a joint fundraising committee that split proceeds among House Republicans in 2018 and spent $228,000 at Trump properties. And Menh worked for Rep. Greg PenceGregory Joseph PenceThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Cure Violence Global founder Gary Slutkin says violence and epidemics follow same patterns; Global death toll surpasses half a million House GOP lawmakers defy new mask requirement Trump campaign launches new fundraising program with House Republicans MORE (R-Ind.), the vice president’s brother, who won his seat in Congress in 2018. 

Menh is now back in the Trump-Pence fold: In April, the Trump campaign announced she had been hired as director of vice presidential operations.

Greg Pence’s congressional campaign spent almost $45,000 at Trump properties in both 2018 and 2019, more than any other member of Congress. This year, Pence’s campaign paid for a reception at the hotel in early January, just as he was being sworn in to office. It also spent more than $4,400 in lodging expenses in February and March.

“The Trump Hotel is convenient and [the] level of service is great. We plan to do more events there in the future,” said Kyle Robertson, Pence’s campaign spokesman. Pence now has an apartment in Washington where he stays when Congress is in session.

Fewer campaigns and committees patronize Trump’s properties outside of Washington, New York and Florida. The National Republican Senatorial Committee and then-Rep. Tom MacArthurThomas (Tom) Charles MacArthurRepublicans plot comeback in New Jersey Republicans spend more than million at Trump properties The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority MORE (R-N.J.) were among the few who spent money at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.

Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesPolitical establishment takes a hit as chaos reigns supreme Lincoln Project releases new pro-Biden ad in swing states The Hill's Campaign Report: Progressives feel momentum after primary night MORE (R-Mont.) and Omar Navarro (R), who challenged Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersOn The Money: Mnuchin, Powell differ over how soon economy will recover | Millions fear eviction without more aid from Congress | IRS chief pledges to work on tax code's role in racial wealth disparities Millions fear eviction without more aid from Congress House approves statehood for DC in 232-180 vote MORE (D-Calif.) in 2018, both spent money at the Trump Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. A joint fundraising committee set up to benefit Reps. Sam GravesSamuel (Sam) Bruce GravesDemocrats detail their .5T green infrastructure plan Overnight Energy: EPA declines to regulate chemical tied to developmental damage | Democrats unveil .5T infrastructure plan | Land management bureau eases requirements for oil, gas royalty cut requests Democrats unveil .5 trillion infrastructure plan MORE (R-Mo.) and Tom GravesJohn (Tom) Thomas GravesHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg expresses 'disgust,' keeps policies | New doomsday cyber bills | QAnon follower favored for congressional seat QAnon believer advances to Georgia House runoff race The Hill's Campaign Report: Bad polling data is piling up for Trump MORE (R-Ga.) spent money at Trump’s Chicago hotel. And the National Republican Congressional Committee spent $315 at Trump’s winery outside Charlottesville.

The McCarthy Victory Fund, a group tied to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyGOP-Trump fractures on masks open up 'Fox & Friends' host urges Trump to wear a mask: 'Masks Are Great Again' Watch live: McCarthy holds press briefing MORE (R-Calif.), spent nearly $38,000 on a 2017 fundraiser at the Washington hotel. Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonGOP senator calls reporting on Russia bounties 'absolutely inaccurate' after White House briefing New legislation required to secure US semiconductor leadership Sunday shows preview: With coronavirus cases surging, lawmakers and health officials weigh in MORE (R-Ark.), Reps. Dana RohrabacherDana Tyrone RohrabacherDemocrat Harley Rouda advances in California House primary Lawyers to seek asylum for Assange in France: report Rohrabacher tells Yahoo he discussed pardon with Assange for proof Russia didn't hack DNC email MORE (R-Calif.) and Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanGOP-Trump fractures on masks open up Democrats start cracking down on masks for lawmakers Comer tapped to serve as top Republican on House Oversight MORE (R-Ohio), former Rep. Bill ShusterWilliam (Bill) Franklin ShusterLobbying firm cuts ties to Trent Lott amid national anti-racism protests Ex-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm Ex-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR MORE (R-Pa.), and MacArthur all spent more than $10,000 on events or lodging at Trump properties.

Trump properties have become go-to destinations even for Republican politicians who are not headed to fundraisers. CREW documented 53 senators and representatives, all Republicans, who attended events at Trump properties in 2018.

Some members of Congress have continued to patronize Trump properties even after they leave office. Beehive PAC, a political action committee controlled by former Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzThe myth of the conservative bestseller Elijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 House Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records MORE (R-Utah), spent $2,881 for lodging at the Trump Hotel in Washington in December 2018 — 18 months after he left office, and four months after the PAC last reported it had given a contribution to a candidate.

Chaffetz did not respond to an email seeking comment.

McGehee, of Issue One, said the political atmosphere around Trump himself has squelched any serious oversight of candidate spending at Trump properties.

“Because the politics around President Trump are so polarized, those politicians who are choosing to go and spend money at Trump properties do so without fear that their constituents are going to hold them accountable because they’re in red states and red districts,” McGehee said. “Right now, the Republican base and the Trump base, in a Venn diagram, overlap significantly. Any questioning of this president’s activities has become a litmus test for how loyal you are as a Republican.”