ADLF FILES COMPLAINTS AGAINST TRUMP FOR USING HIS CAMPAIGN TO FURTHER HIS OWN BUSINESS AND PERSONAL INTERESTS

The American Democracy Legal Fund has filed two complaints with the Federal Election Commission against Donald Trump and his campaign for violating the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. Both complaints lay out that Trump is using his own presidential campaign to further his own business and personal interests.

The first complaint highlights the events on Friday, September 16 at Donald Trump’s new DC hotel, where he held a campaign event under his campaign’s logo. He opened the event by calling attention to the “nice hotel,” eventually calling it one of the best hotels in the world. Mr. Trump then “ceded the stage to a parade of decorated military veterans who testified to his toughness, his judgement and his temperament,” before asking “photographers and video cameras to accompany him on a tour of his newly-opened Trump International Hotel.” Essentially, Mr. Trump baited “the entire media into attending the opening of his new Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. by promising to finally address [a] controversy swirling around his [presidential] campaign.” In doing so, Mr. Trump “used the opportunity to turn the event into a national infomercial for his latest real-estate project.”

The second complaint highlights his use of his presidential campaign to support his personal businesses, specifically by charging his principal campaign committee more than 25 times the amount others are charged for using his properties. In doing so, Mr. Trump has engaged in the personal use of his campaign’s funds in violation of FEC law.

The complaints are available below and in full with exhibits here and here. The American Democracy Legal Fund holds candidates for office accountable for possible ethics and/or legal violations. It is run by Brad Woodhouse.

BEFORE THE

FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION

Brad Woodhouse

American Democracy Legal Fund

455 Massachusetts Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20001

Complainant,

v.

Mr. Donald Trump

725 Fifth Avenue

New York, New York 10022

Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., and Timothy Jost, Treasurer

725 Fifth Avenue

New York, New York 10022

Respondents.

COMPLAINT

This complaint is filed under 52 U.S.C. § 30109(a)(1) against Mr. Donald Trump, Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., and Timothy Jost, in his official capacity as Treasurer (collectively “Respondents”) for violating the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, as amended (the “Act”) and Federal Election Commission (the “Commission”) regulations, as described below.  Respondents continue to violate 52 U.S.C. § 30114(a)(1) by consistently using Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign to further his own business and personal interests. The Commission should immediately investigate and take appropriate remedial action against Respondents for these clear violations of law.

FACTS

Mr. Trump is the current Republican nominee for President.  His principal campaign committee is Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.. Mr. Trump is also the chairman and president of the Trump Organization, a privately owned international company that is engaged in real estate development, brand licensing, and entertainment.  In the past, Mr. Trump has stated that, “[i]t’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.” Publicly available reports show that he is using his best efforts to make this a reality. Mr. Trump has already used at least 10 of his properties as backdrops for his campaign events.  Even Mr. Trump’s defense of his use of his properties for campaign events is purely promotional: “I have the best properties.  Why should I use someone else’s properties.”

Despite numerous complaints filed with the Commission regarding Mr. Trump’s impermissible use of campaign funds to support his personal business, Mr. Trump continues to use campaign press conferences and events to promote his own properties. Mr. Trump has repeatedly and unabashedly violated the Act and its regulations by continuing to promote his own business interests with resources and funds from his presidential campaign.

Mr. Trump’s latest violation occurred on September 16, 2016, where Mr. Trump “promised a ‘major announcement’ during a campaign event at his new D.C. hotel.” Standing behind a podium with his campaign logo on the front, Mr. Trump delivered his “major statement” at the Old Post Office building, the location of the “brand new Trump International Hotel” in Washington, D.C. Mr. Trump began the campaign event by calling attention to the “nice hotel,” eventually calling it one of the best hotels in the world. Mr. Trump then “ceded the stage to a parade of decorated military veterans who testified to his toughness, his judgment and his temperament,” before asking “photographers and video cameras to accompany him on a tour of his newly-opened Trump International Hotel.” This event “was another extended infomercial for [Mr. Trump’s] newly opened hotel in Washington, D.C., where the event was held.”

Mr. Trump’s “campaign” press conference was so blatantly used as a promotional tool for his new hotel that one news anchor covering the event noted that the “press tour” was nothing more than “live cable coverage of a promotion of his new hotel.” As another reporter put it, Mr. Trump managed to turn the campaign event “into an advertisement for his new hotel.” Essentially, Mr. Trump baited “the entire media into attending the opening of his new Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. by promising to finally address [a] controversy swirling around his [presidential] campaign.” In doing so, Mr. Trump “used the opportunity to turn the event into a national infomercial for his latest real-estate project.”

LEGAL DISCUSSION

Under the Act and Commission regulations, campaign contributions may only be used “in connection with the campaign for Federal office.”  The Act prohibits any campaign contribution or donation from being “converted by any person to personal use.”  The Act’s regulations define “personal use” as “any use of funds in a campaign account of a present . . . candidate to fulfill a commitment, obligation, or expense of any person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s campaign.”  The Commission has determined that marketing commercial items, such as a candidate’s book for example, is an expense that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s campaign and thus, the use of a principal campaign committee’s assets to promote such an item does constitute personal use in violation of the Act.  A candidate may market a product using campaign committee assets only if the amount of promotion and the cost to the committee is de minimis.

Mr. Trump’s latest event has flown in the face of this very clear rule prohibiting the use of campaign assets for personal use. As documented above, on September 16, 2016, Mr. Trump used a campaign press conference and event to promote the opening of Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. This was billed as a campaign event and Mr. Trump spoke behind a podium featuring his campaign’s logo. Yet, Mr. Trump began the campaign event by calling attention to the “nice hotel,” eventually calling it one of the best hotels in the world. He then asked “photographers and video cameras to accompany him on a tour of his newly-opened Trump International Hotel.” Mr. Trump used the campaign event to advertise his newly opened hotel.

Obviously, the expenses associated with promoting and marketing Mr. Trump’s properties would exist irrespective of his presidential campaign. As a result, Mr. Trump is prohibited from promoting his business by using campaign resources. However, Mr. Trump brazenly used his campaign to promote and market his business interests, this time, inviting photographers and videographers to record a tour of his newest hotel by claiming he was holding a campaign event. Any campaign resources used and spent on the event were clearly personal use in blatant disregard of the law.  And, as evidenced by the numerous complaints filed by this organization against Mr. Trump regarding personal use of campaign resources, this violation is clearly knowing and willful. Because the purpose of Mr. Trump’s campaign “press conference” was not actually to further Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, but instead to promote his newest hotel, Mr. Trump has clearly violated the law.

REQUESTED ACTION

As we have shown, Respondents have violated the Act and Commission regulations by using the campaign to further Mr. Trump’s business and personal interests.  As such, we respectfully request that the Commission immediately investigate these violations and that Respondents be enjoined from further violations and be fined the maximum amount permitted by law.

BEFORE THE

FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION

Brad Woodhouse

American Democracy Legal Fund

455 Massachusetts Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20001

Complainant,

v.

Mr. Donald Trump

725 Fifth Avenue

New York, New York 10022

Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., and Timothy Jost, Treasurer

725 Fifth Avenue

New York, New York 10022

Respondents.

COMPLAINT

This complaint is filed under 52 U.S.C. § 30109(a)(1) against Mr. Donald Trump, Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. (the “Committee”), and Timothy Jost, in his official capacity as Treasurer (collectively “Respondents”) for violating the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, as amended (the “Act”) and Federal Election Commission (the “Commission”) regulations, as described below.  Publicly available reports suggest that Mr. Trump is overcharging his presidential campaign committee for events held on his own properties and thus using the funds from his presidential campaign to further his business interests in clear violation of 52 U.S.C. § 30114(a)(1).

FACTS

Mr. Trump is the current Republican nominee for President.  His campaign committee is Donald J. Trump for President Inc.. Mr. Trump is also the chairman and president of the Trump Organization, a privately owned international company that is engaged in real estate development, brand licensing, and entertainment.  In the past, Mr. Trump has stated that, “It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it,” and publicly available reports show that he is using his best efforts to make this a reality.

In fact, Mr. Trump appears to have used his presidential campaign to support his personal business, specifically by charging his principal campaign committee, Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., more than 25 times the amount others are charged for using his properties.  Mr. Trump has engaged in the personal use of his campaign’s funds in violation of the Act and its regulations.

According to multiple news reports, Mr. Trump has been overcharging his own campaign for fundraising events held on his own property. On March 25, 2014, Mr. Trump charged the Florida Republican Party $4,855.65 to use his Mar-a-Lago Club for a fundraiser for Pam Bondi’s reelection campaign. Meanwhile, “Trump has charged his own presidential campaign around $140,000 each time it has used the resort.” News reports indicate that Trump charged his campaign $423,372 for use of the Mar-a-Lago Club for three campaign events in March of 2016: two parties on the first and fifteenth of the month, and a news conference on March 11. This $423,372 expenditure was confirmed and reported by Mr. Trump’s campaign committee in June of this year.

LEGAL DISCUSSION

Under the Act and Commission regulations, campaign contributions may only be used “in connection with the campaign for Federal office.”  The Act prohibits any campaign contribution or donation from being “converted by any person to personal use.”  In defining “personal use” Commission regulations include rental expenses “for real or personal property that is owned by the candidate . . . and used for campaign purposes, to the extent the payments exceed the fair market value of the property usage.”

The Commission further clarified that “so long as the campaign pays fair market value, these payments will not be considered personal use” in violation of the law. With regard to candidate-owned property, “fair market value” has been interpreted by the Commission to mean “the usual and normal” price. The profit earned by Mr. Trump through the Mar-a-Lago Club is a clear violation of the Act’s personal-use rules.

News reports have set forth a multitude of facts establishing that Mr. Trump overcharged his own campaign to his own benefit, and such payments exceed the usual and normal price paid for using such property. Mr. Trump has charged his own campaign significantly more money to use his properties for campaign events than he has charged others to use the same property for similar fundraising events. Three campaign events were held at Mar-a-Lago Club for Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, and the campaign was charged $423,372 to use the space for those three events; that is $141,124 per event, one of which was merely a press conference.

In comparison, the Florida Republican Party was charged a fraction of that to hold a similar fundraiser for a different political candidate; the Florida party paid only $4,855.65 to use the same resort for a Pam Bondi fundraiser in 2014. There is no justification for the extreme difference between the $141,124 charged to his campaign and the $4,855 charged to the Florida Republican Party.

At a minimum, such an extreme difference in price indicates that current charges to the Trump Campaign are in excess of the “usual and normal” price and thus constitute impermissible personal use of campaign funds. While Mr. Trump and his family are not precluded from receiving rental fees from the Committee for its use of their properties, the magnitude of the proportion of campaign funds spent to compensate Mr. Trump and his family calls for stricter scrutiny by the Commission of this practice, especially given the low cost of other similar campaign events at the same Trump-owned locations.

REQUESTED ACTION

As we have shown, Respondents have likely violated the Act and Commission regulations by using the campaign to further Mr. Trump’s business and personal interests.  As such, we respectfully request that the Commission immediately investigate these violations and that Respondents be enjoined from further violations and be fined the maximum amount permitted by law.