Pro-Trump groups spending big at Trump properties

 In Politics

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The Trump campaign has spent more than $100,000 at the Trump International Hotel (pictured) in Washington. | AP Photo

Watchdogs say there should be a ban on such money being funneled to the president’s business empire.

Political groups supporting President Donald Trump are doubling as big-spending customers for the business empire he has not divested from.

Trump’s reelection campaign has spent $670,000 at Trump properties since he was elected president, and $125,000 during the first three months of this year alone, recent disclosures show.

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But Trump’s campaign is not the only group paying Trump’s companies for events, catering and sometimes even rent: The Republican National Committee has also paid $1.1 million to Trump properties since the election. Outside PACs supporting Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have also been two of the biggest political spenders at Trump properties during that time.

Because Trump has maintained his financial interest in his vast business while president — and, unlike previous presidents, filed for reelection soon after taking office — the relationship between pro-Trump political groups and the Trump businesses has no precedent. While congressional campaigns for Republican lawmakers have also spent money at Trump properties, much of the spending at Trump properties from outside political groups appears to come from those linked closely to the president.

The RNC paid $320,000 to Trump properties in March alone, new disclosures show, the majority of which was spent at Trump’s Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago property, likely for an early March RNC retreat featuring the president himself that reportedly raised $12 million for Trump’s reelection and the RNC.

Of the $1.1 million total the RNC has spent at Trump properties since the election, the RNC has spent $225,000 on rent at Trump Tower, which it has done as a contribution coordinated with the Trump campaign. Most of the rest of the expenses are on venue rental and catering at Trump’s properties.

For the Trump campaign, the biggest expense at the Trump business is rent at Trump Tower in Manhattan. The Trump campaign has spent more than $500,000 total on rent at Trump Tower since the election. It has also spent more than $100,000 at the Trump International Hotel, mostly on events and catering.

Trump’s business also appears to have paid for the water drank by campaign staff: The Trump campaign paid $1,768 in 2017 to Trump’s bottled water company, Trump Ice LLC.

The spending has led some watchdogs to call for a ban on such spending.

“There are two serious problems with allowing campaign money to be spent on personal properties owned by the candidate. When the campaign money comes from the candidate, the candidate is using donor money for self-enrichment,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist at the watchdog group Public Citizen. “When the campaign money spent on a candidate’s personal properties comes from others – say, special interest groups or even other officeholders – it is often done so as a means to buy access and endear the candidate as an influence-peddling tool.”

An RNC official cited several reasons the committee has held events at Trump properties, including that the size and price point of Trump venues suit large presidential-level events; that Trump’s properties “are consistently willing and able to accommodate the president and his security needs, which can be disruptive to a hotel’s guests,” and that “several Washington hotels have long declined to host events attended by the president — under both Democratic and Republican administrations — because of the hassle they create for everyone else at the hotel.”

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