While inauguration festivities were still in full effect on the day Donald Trump became president of the United States, he was busy officially launching his 2020 reelection campaign. Donations began to pour in from more than 50,000 people across the country. However, the latest federal filings discovered that Trump has yet to donate a penny of his own, while his businesses charged the campaign for hotels, food, rent and legal consulting. Further meaning that the richest president in American history turned $1.1 million from donors across the country who thought they were supporting his campaign into revenue for himself.
Though, this wasn’t always the case. Trump put $50 million of his own money into his campaign from April 2015 to June 2016. Meanwhile, he was also running a famously frugal operation. When outsiders began covering the cost of most of his expenses in July 2016, he began loosening up, handing more money to his own companies and stemming his personal losses. Now that it seems he is not donating a single penny towards his 2020 reelection, Trump may be receiving a small payback on his investment.
According to federal filings, Trump Tower Commercial LLC, an entity owned 100% by the president, charged the reelection campaign $665,000 in rent. In addition, the Republican National Committee coordinated with the campaign to pay an additional $225,000 in rent.
Though campaign representatives did not respond to requests for comment, and an RNC official declined to answer questions about the payments, it appears to be plenty. Working up to the 2016 election, Trump’s campaign paid an average of $2,700 in monthly Trump Tower rent for all individuals listed in campaign filings as receiving a “payroll” payment. Forbes reports that the 2020 operation, by contrast, is shelling out an average of $6,300 in monthly rent for every such person.
Meanwhile, there are also payments flowing into Trump Plaza LLC, a Trump-owned entity, which collected $42,000 of campaign money since November 2017. Federal filings list the purpose of those payments as “rent,” but it is strenuous to distinguish what the campaign is legitimately renting.
To figure out whether Trump Plaza LLC contains any campaign activity, Forbes decided to stake out the buildings. They arrived one November morning around 7:15 a.m. and stayed for the next 14 hours.
“By our count, seven people went in and out of the twin, four-story brownstones over the course of the day. One refused to talk, and six said they had not seen any sign of the campaign in the buildings. Nor had a man behind the front desk at Trump Plaza,” states Forbes.
“I’ve been here since the beginning,” the man behind the front desk said. “If there was any kind of office rented out for campaigning or whatever, I would know about it.”
There are other campaign payments sparking suspicions as well. Nearly one month after Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, the campaign paid the Trump Corporation $90,000 in “legal consulting” expenses, according to federal records. It remains unclear what legal services Trump’s company provided the campaign, as well what rate it charged for the work provided. A spokesperson for the Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment.
“This is extremely unusual,” says Ann Ravel, a Democrat who left her position as a commissioner of the Federal Election Commission soon after Trump’s inauguration. “There is always a concern when you’re looking at expenditures as to whether those expenditures are being used for personal use, for personal purposes, because that’s illegal. And there is, in my opinion, a fine line here with so much money being utilized for economic benefit for the candidate himself.”