Millions of dollars of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign expenditures went to Trump companies according to his most recent Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings. The revelation has left many in the media asking, “Is Donald Trump using his campaign to enrich himself?”
The Trump campaign is forced by campaign finance laws to pay “fair market value” for services or products that benefit the campaign, even from companies affiliated with the candidate, leading campaign finance expert and attorney Cleta Mitchell wrote to Breitbart News in an email asking about controversy.
“Any use of Trump corporate facilities used for campaign purposes must be paid by the campaign just as though the facilities were owned by a third party,” Mitchell explained. “That includes everything: office space and equipment, personnel, hotels, meeting rooms, aircraft, everything.”
A review of Trump’s FEC filings through May 31 show not a scheme to enrich himself, but rather a man who is confident in his numerous self-built businesses. Most of his buildings, planes, helicopters, and businesses are boldly branded with his name. While other campaigns use temporary signage to brand their candidates on the trail, Trump holds events and flies on planes that have his brand permanently displayed. It’s a common practice a campaign finance attorney like Mitchell is used to dealing with. Mitchell said:
I have many times advised law firms and companies who had a partner or principal who decided to run for federal office — and we have established a payment schedule for the campaign or candidate to pay the company or firm for the candidate’s / campaign’s use of the office / personnel / equipment, etc. Those must always be paid for by the campaign.
Failure to pay results in an in-kind contribution to the campaign. And if owned by a corporation would be an illegal in-kind. A corporation cannot give anything to a federal campaign. And anything owned even by the candidate personally has to be captured and reported.
Trump brought up the controversy in an interview with Hugh Hewitt after Hewitt encouraged the presumptive Republican nominee to reinstate the Washington Post‘s credentials. Trump said:
If I had an event, like we have a big news conference at one of my clubs, now it’s better if I do it than if I, why should I give it to the club down the street? Or why should I give it to a hotel that’s not a Trump hotel? There’s no reason for that. But if I do a news conference, or if I do some kind of an event at a club, I have to, by law under federal elections, I have to reimburse at fair market and all of that stuff, right? And I do that. We do it very meticulously, and we do it. So the headline is Trump receives money from his campaign. It’s so dishonest. Now they know that’s dishonest, but people don’t know that. You know, because I frankly think it sounds bad when you see that kind of a headline. But nobody says in there by law you have to do it. And I think it would be stupid to use somebody else’s, somebody else’s club or somebody else’s plane. You know, it doesn’t make sense.
Mitchell responded to Trump’s statement by saying, “Trump is 100% correct,” and blasting the reporters in the media trying to turn this into a controversy.
“The reporters writing articles criticizing these payments are the same morons who constantly clamor for more campaign finance (speech) restrictions,” Mitchell said. “And they don’t even understand the laws currently on the books. This law has been on the books for more than a century. Since 1907. No corporate contributions to federal candidates.”
The largest expenditures made by the Trump campaign to Trump companies are for use of Trump-branded properties and equipment that any campaign would utilize, including:
Nearly $4.3 million to TAG Air for use of Trump-branded airplanes and helicopters
Nearly $400,000 to Trump Tower Commercial LLC for office space rental
About $400,000 to Trump’s Palm Beach resort, Mar-A-Lago, for rental space and catering
Various amounts to other Trump companies for Trump-branded products, including event space at other Trump properties and restaurants
The unique pre-political brand of Donald Trump has undoubtedly benefitted his campaign. In cities across the country – and the world – skyscrapers bearing his name dot the skyline.
As a political outsider, Trump’s many successful business have been crucial to his presidential narrative. Trump defeated a deep and talented field of 17 Republican primary candidates at nearly one-tenth the cost, all while using Trump-built companies.
“Ridiculous if there is a single peep about this,” Mitchell finished. “Absent the reported payments, one of Hillary’s goon squads like CREW would file an FEC complaint against the Trump campaign AND his companies for illegal corporate contributions.”