The Art of the (Self) Deal

Political and Taxpayer Spending at Trump’s Properties

By Alan Zibel

The interior of the Trump International Hotel In Washington, D.C. (Photo: Catherine Downey)

During his brief political career, Donald Trump has not been bashful about mixing private profit with campaign or government business. Trump himself mused in a 2000 interview with Fortune: “It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.”

While Trump did not turn a profit on his campaign, his businesses have received millions. Trump, his campaign and Republican political committees have directed millions in campaign and public money to Trump’s own hotels, airplanes, restaurants,  golf courses and even a bottled water company. 

Public Citizen has compiled all known records of political and federal taxpayer spending at Trump properties and businesses in the U.S.  We found that President Trump’s U.S. businesses have raked in $15.1 million in revenue from political groups as well as federal agencies during his campaign and presidency. About 90 percent of the spending, or $13.2 million, came from Trump’s own campaign. In addition, more than $717,000 came from the Republican National Committee and nearly $595,000 from Trump Victory, the joint fundraising committee set up by Trump’s campaign and the RNC. About $160,000 came from Republican candidates and conservative political groups, according to Public Citizen’s analysis.

Trump’s propensity for travel to his own resorts and dining at his own restaurants has resulted in considerable spending of tax dollars at Trump-owned properties. Yet it is hard to assess precisely how much money has been spent, as information about spending by federal agencies  at Trump properties is just starting to trickle out.

Known Political and Federal Spending at Trump U.S. Businesses

Year Total
Grand total $15,140,410
2015 Political spending $2,554,565
2016 Political spending $10,922,919
2017 Political spending $1,068,595
2018 Political spending $387,784
All political spending $14,933,863
Defense Department $138,093
Secret Service $64,090
Other federal spending $4,364
Total federal spending
$206,547
YearTotal
2015 Political spending$2,554,565
2016 Political spending$10,922,919
2017 Political spending$1,068,595
2018 Political spending$387,784
All political spending$14,933,863
Defense Department$138,093
Secret Service$64,090
Other federal spending$4,364
Total federal spending$206,547
Grand total$15,140,410

Source: Public Citizen analysis of Federal Election Commission data, federal agency records obtained from FOIA requests by Public Citizen, Property of the People.

Ten Largest Political Spenders at Trump U.S. Businesses, 2015-2018

Group Spending Percent of total
Donald J. Trump for President Inc. $ 13,421,148 89.9%
Republican National Committee $ 717,263 4.8%
Trump Victory $ 594,241 4.0%
America First Action Inc. $ 32,619 0.2%
Bill Shuster for Congress $ 25,609 0.2%
Great America Committee $ 23,675 0.2%
Texans for Jodey Arrington $ 16,603 0.1%
Macarthur Victory $ 15,221 0.1%
Rohrabacher for Congress $ 12,545 0.1%
National Republican Senate Committee $ 9,171 0.1%
GroupSpendingPercent of total
Donald J. Trump for President Inc.$ 13,421,14889.9%
Republican National Committee$ 717,2634.8%
Trump Victory$ 594,2414.0%
America First Action Inc.$ 32,6190.2%
Bill Shuster for Congress$ 25,6090.2%
Great America Committee$ 23,6750.2%
Texans for Jodey Arrington$ 16,6030.1%
Macarthur Victory$ 15,2210.1%
Rohrabacher for Congress$ 12,5450.1%
National Republican Senate Committee$ 9,1710.1%

Source: Public Citizen analysis of Federal Election Commission data 2015-2018.

This pattern of high levels of spending at Trump-owned businesses became clear during Trump’s presidential campaign, which was launched in the Trump Tower lobby in New York. Trump’s company leased office space to his campaign. Campaign events were stocked with Trump-branded water and wine from Trump son Eric. The Daily Beast aptly summed up this shameless practice with the spring 2016 headline: “Donald Trump is Paying Himself to Run for President.”

Public Citizen’s analysis found that more than $9.2 million in political spending, or more than 60 percent, went to Tag Air Inc., which controls Trump’s 757 airplane, customized with gold-plated bathroom faucets and seat belts. The Wall Street Journal reported in December 2016 that this plane is owned by a Trump-owned company, DJT Operations I LLC,  which leases the aircraft to Tag Air. The Journal noted that this ownership strategy is often used by jet owners to avoid paying up-front sales taxes and instead pay sales tax on lease payments.   According to Politico, the Trump campaign was eligible for reimbursements from the Secret Service to cover air travel costs for agents that protected the candidate. 

Trump U.S. Businesses Receiving Political Spending, Ranked By Spending Amount, 2015-2018

Recipient Spending Percent of total
Tag Air Inc. $9,252,770 62%
Trump Tower Commercial LLC $2,488,114 17%
Trump International Hotel Washington DC $640,089 4%
The Mar-A-Lago Club LLC $498,149 3%
Trump National Doral Miami $299,755 2%
Trump International Hotel Las Vegas $279,400 2%
Trump Restaurants LLC $251,161 2%
The Trump Corporation $227,010 2%
Trump Payroll Corp. $202,014 1%
Trump Plaza LLC $156,850 1%
RecipientSpendingPercent of total
Tag Air Inc.$9,252,77062%
Trump Tower Commercial LLC$2,488,11417%
Trump International Hotel Washington DC$640,0894%
The Mar-A-Lago Club LLC$498,1493%
Trump National Doral Miami$299,7552%
Trump International Hotel Las Vegas$279,4002%
Trump Restaurants LLC$251,1612%
The Trump Corporation$227,0102%
Trump Payroll Corp.$202,0141%
Trump Plaza LLC$156,8501%

Source: Public Citizen analysis of Federal Election Commission data 2015-2018.

Known Federal Agency Spending at Trump U.S. Businesses

Agency Dollar amount
Defense Department $138,093
Secret Service $64,090
General Services Administration $1760
U.S. Embassies $1,264
White House National Security Council $1,092
Agency name unknown $248
Total $206,547
AgencyDollar amount
Defense Department$138,093
Secret Service$64,090
General Services Administration$1760
U.S. Embassies$1,264
White House National Security Council$1,092
Agency name unknown$248
Total$206,547

Sources: Public Citizen tally of Secret Service records for Feb-April 2017, Defense Department records obtained through FOIA and tallied by Property of the People. GSA documents, other records obtained through FOIA by Property of the People.

After the election, a Trump presidential transition staffer raised the prospect of using public money to pay for a transition team lease at Trump Tower, writing “Can we get the details again of how to pay for a lease of Trump Tower in NYC?” to a federal official, according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity.  Trump’s inaugural committee, meanwhile, raised a record $107 million from corporate donors and rich individuals and paid nearly $26 million to an event-planning firm founded by a friend of Melania Trump, the first lady.

During Trump’s presidency, presidential excursions to Trump properties in Florida, New Jersey and Virginia have become commonplace, leading to government spending at Trump’s properties, as well as considerable bills for golf cart rentals.

Unfortunately, there is no single repository of how much money federal agencies spend at Trump properties.Federal agencies have started to disclose some travel records as a result of requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act. The Secret Service, responding to records requests by Public Citizen and other organizations, has released some information on spending at Trump’s Florida properties during early 2017. Other FOIA requests by Property of the People have unearthed invoices and other information.

The relationship between Trump’s businesses and the U.S. government hasn’t been without conflict. One dispute between a Trump business and the federal government spilled into public view last fall, when the Washington Post reported that the Secret Service left its command post inside Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan after a dispute about lease terms. That Secret Service was relocated to a trailer on the street.

Now that Trump is president, Republican candidates for various political offices  have been holding numerous fundraisers at Trump properties — locations that were hardly hotbeds of political activity before Trump’s foray into politics. (Combined political spending at Trump properties at 2013 and 2014 was less than $20,000.)

A February 2017 invoice issued to Secret Service by Trump’s Mar-A-Lago Club 

As Trump ramps up his 2020 reelection campaign, spending from the Republican Party is likely to keep growing. The Republican National Committee has been covering the $37,000 per month cost of the Trump campaign’s New York office space, since September 2017, according to a CNBC report.  That arrangement appears to be legal and properly disclosed, but still highly unusual. “One would think the RNC could be spending their money more effectively right now on the 2018 campaign, rather than spending it to pay Trump’s rent.” Brendan Fischer, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, told CNBC.  

Trump’s properties, especially his hotel in Washington, have hosted dozens of conferences, dinners — from the  American Petroleum Institute to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to a conference for the vaping industry But except from rare cases, such as a $270,000 event held by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the amount of money spent at those events is hidden from public view.

The Trump Organization, which runs Trump’s businesses, attempted to allay concerns about foreign influence on the Trump administration by donating profits from foreign governments. Earlier this year, the company wrote a $151,470 check to the U.S. Treasury.  However, company officials released no details about how they made this calculation, or which governments have been patronizing Trump properties.

Americans’ justifiably cynicism about Washington, D.C. helped propel Trump into White House. But rather than fix our government, Trump’s penchant for self-dealing has validated every bit of the public’s disenchantment with our nation’s leaders.