PR effort? Questions surround Trump’s hotel profits pledge

PR effort? Questions surround Trump's hotel profits pledge

WASHINGTON — It’s a public relations win for the president-elect: Donald Trump’s company says it will donate profits from any foreign governments that use his hotels. In practice, however, the public may never know if any money changes hands.

Trump says he is making the move to avoid the appearance that foreign governments can curry favour with him by using his hotels — including one that just opened a short walk from the White House.

“This way, it is the American people who will profit,” said Sheri Dillion, a lawyer working with the Trump Organization, as she outlined Trump’s plan for his global business empire while he’s president. The hotel-profits money would be sent to the U.S. Treasury.

Yet the unusual arrangement left many ethics experts with questions about how it would be implemented, disclosed and enforced. Several panned the idea as an unenforceable PR move.

One key question was about Trump’s definitions.

The donations pledge only includes his hotels, meaning golf courses and other properties are exempt. The policy appears to apply only to “foreign governments,” — a narrow description that seems to overlook governments that use a third-party vendor to do business with Trump. (It does not apply to domestic interests, including companies that may have regulatory business before the government, or domestic lobbyists.)

And then there is the focus on “profit.” Steven Carvell, a Cornell University School of Hotel Administration professor, said it’s not impossible — but is challenging and unusual — to try to calculate “profit” on an individual room or venue rental. Typically, that’s assessed monthly or quarterly and for an entire category — such as the rooms or food and beverage department — within a property.

“It’s a monumental task to constantly run this down,” Carvell said. “Even if the company is trying its hardest and making its very best effort, it will be difficult to fulfil that goal.”

Through a spokeswoman at her firm, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, Dillon declined to answer questions about the foreign donations pledge. Representatives of the Trump Organization did not return requests for comment, and a transition official answered select questions but requested anonymity to discuss the company’s internal policies.

The official suggested profit from foreign governments “is already accounted for as standard practice for things like competitive analysis.”

U.S. presidents are not subject to the conflict of interest laws that their own appointees must follow, but until now they have followed them anyway to set an example. Trump is blazing a different trail by refusing to give up a financial interest in his company while turning over the reins to his adult sons and a senior executive.

The policy is crafted to address the argument that Trump’s business may not break conflict-of-interest law but does violate the U.S. Constitution.

Some ethics attorneys have argued that some of his international work and foreign government guests at his hotels will put him in violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution. The clause prohibits presidents from accepting gifts and payments from foreign governments without congressional approval.

Trump’s lawyer argues that fair-value exchanges, such as leasing venue space at a hotel, do not violate the clause.

“No one would have thought when the Constitution was written that paying your hotel bill was an emolument,” Dillon said. Still, she said, Trump was taking this step “to put to rest any concerns.”

Just since Election Day, the Embassy of Bahrain and the Kuwaiti Embassy have booked parties at Trump’s Washington hotel. The transition official said the company had not yet determined if the donations rule will extend beyond foreign governments to include other foreign actors such as members of a royal family or government-controlled businesses.

Trump and his representatives didn’t discuss how anyone might know if they’re doing what they promise.

Like other aspects of the self-imposed arrangement, that’s largely a matter of faith. And Trump hasn’t followed through on previous charity pledges, including a failure to give a promised $6 million to veterans’ organizations last year until months later when reporters asked questions about what had happened to the money.

Trump did not commit to disclosing what money was being turned over to the government. The transition official believes the donations will be made “on an annual basis.” The Treasury Department doesn’t typically report the details of donations, citing the privacy of its donors.

Andy Grewal, a University of Iowa law professor whose position that Trump’s hotels do not violate the emoluments clause was cited in Dillon’s briefing Wednesday, said the company should take steps to make clear what it’s doing. Ideally, he said, one of the major accounting firms would calculate profit on the transactions that trigger the donations and report its findings publicly.

“Once you’ve promised to turn over the profits, you have to back that up with documentation, whether you’re required to do that or not,” he said.

The government first established an account to accept gifts and bequests in 1843. The Treasury Department will accept contributions via credit card, debit card, checks and even PayPal. In fiscal 2016, people donated $2.7 million to reduce the debt, an impressive gesture but hardly a scratch on the $14.1 trillion publicly held debt, according to Treasury Department figures.


Associated Press writers Chad Day and Josh Boak in Washington contributed to this report.

Follow Julie Bykowicz on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/bykowicz

Julie Bykowicz, The Associated Press

Just Posted

UPDATE: Poor ventilation likely cause of carbon monoxide incident at Delta farm

All 42 patients have been released from hospital, according to Delta Fire

LETTER: Township has much to do the day before Christmas

A Langley letter writer shares her prose about Township Langley council preparing for Christmas Day.

Santa, Moana drop in on Aldergrove children’s party: PHOTOS

Annual Christmas party for children hosted by Aldergrove Elks

North Langley boys fight to finish ahead of Clayton’s Lord Tweedsmuir

Tsumura Basketball Invitational action wrapped up Saturday at the Langley Events Centre.

Langley families spend time with the man in red

Willows Church hosted a Santa Claus Breakfast Saturday morning, attracting lots of folks.

VIDEO: Goalie of Langley-based Giants kept door shut to U.S. league-leaders

Vancouver G-Men defeated the Winterhawks Tuesday 5-3 at LEC, now 1-0 in Portland Friday night.

Aldergrove Kodiaks fall to Flames

Kodiaks assistant captain Kyle Bosko scored the team’s only two goals in a 2-5 loss

Aldergrove Secondary celebrates 60th anniversary

Aldergrove Secondary School is celebrating “60 years of Totems” with an open house on May 12, 2018.

Site C decision coming Monday

Premier John Horgan to announce fate of dam project at B.C. legislature

VIDEO: Man frustrated that Vancouver taxi driver won’t take him home to New Westminster

Kuldip Gill says that not being able to get a ride to the suburbs is a constant problem

Legacy of Amanda Todd lives on through B.C. foundation

Todd’s mother Carol stresses the importance of putting the phone down and talking with children

UPDATE: Train hits hydro pole, causes outage near Deltaport

No injuries reported but traffic in and out of Deltaport is blocked

VIDEO: Vancouver Whitecaps acquire star striker Kei Kamara

Kamara has 103 goals and 39 assists in 298 appearances over 11 Major League Soccer seasons

Most Read