On the night of 12 February, a group backing Donald Trump’s re-election hosted a glitzy gala for large donors at the Trump International hotel that featured the president. The Super Pac, dubbed America First Action, is no stranger to Trump’s Washington DC hotel.
The Super Pac, which has raised almost $48m since 2017, has spent over $540,000 to host events at Trump’s hotel, making it a top source of campaign revenues for the hotel and the Trump family business, according to public data and 1100 Pennsylvania, which tracks Trump hotel events.
Meanwhile, in mid-December, some mega-donors rented pricey rooms at the hotel for a two-day event hosted by Trump Victory, a fundraising committee for the president’s 2020 campaign, which also drew Trump and the vice-president, Mike Pence. The hotel also seems to have capitalized with high rates: the cheapest rooms on Saturday 14 December during the two-day meeting went for a whopping $6,719 compared with the usual rate of $500, according to the watchdog group Crew.
Such lavish spending by pro-Trump political committees and their wealthy donors at his hotel highlights how the president, and his Republican allies in Congress, are using the hotel and other Trump properties to woo big donors as the 2020 money chase heats up.
Thus Trump’s aggressive fundraising gives a nice boost to his real estate empire – which he never divested from – according to campaign watchdogs and public records. Trump’s businesses are literally making money off the 2020 campaign.
Nor is it the first time. According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), Trump-allied political committees and the Republican party have spent a whopping $18.1m at Trump properties since he launched his 2016 campaign. Republican candidates, elected officials and Pacs have ponied up another $1.2m in the same period.
Donald J Trump for President leads the pack, having spent a total of $14.5m since he began his 2016 campaign, with the Republican National Committee in second place at $1.8m and Trump Victory ranking third at $1.6m, Center data shows.
“The Trump era has given birth to a whole new level of political access and influence in Washington,” said Robert Maguire, the research director at Crew. “Wealthy donors and special interests get access to powerful people in President Trump’s orbit, including Trump himself, and in return, the donors not only boost Trump’s campaign, but enrich him personally by spending money at properties he still profits from.”
The hefty campaign spending at the Trump hotel and other properties has yielded good dividends.
Trump and the RNC have teamed up periodically to hold major fundraisers at the hotel. One early joint fundraiser in 2017 reportedly pulled in $10m, and in May 2019, soon after Trump formally launched his re-election campaign, a joint event brought in about $6m.
Other Trump properties have witnessed more big donor traffic – with potential upticks in their revenues – as Trump seeks a second term. On 17 January, dozens of top Trump backers who had kicked in between $100,000 and $250,000 to help Trump win in 2020 showed up at Trump’s palatial Mar-a-Lago resort, where his 2020 campaign hosted a dinner with the president that also included policy roundtable talks and photo ops.
Not surprisingly, some elite donors have received extra attention from Trump at recent events, including the two-day December gathering hosted by Trump Victory, a joint committee between the campaign and the RNC.
One donor who stood out was the oil and gas billionaire Harold Hamm, who runs a fossil fuel trade group that has held a few meetings at the Trump hotel. Hamm, who spoke at the 2016 GOP convention and has benefited from Trump’s deregulatory policies and pro-fossil-fuel stances, received a special shout-out from the president, according to a donor who heard Trump’s talk.
Trump properties have also seen a nice boomlet as committees linked to key congressional allies, such as the Republican House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, have also spent big bucks to haul in campaign loot.
McCarthy, for instance, teamed up with Pence to host a big fundraiser for their Protect the House Pac at the Trump hotel last October, which drew Trump as a guest speaker and pulled in about $13m, according to public records.
Other McCarthy committees to benefit House members organized two bashes at the hotel in 2018. Altogether these events have generated over $200,000 in revenues for Trump’s hotel, campaign reports show.
Likewise, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, hosted a big-money bash at Trump’s hotel last fall for his Senate Leadership Fund, an event Trump attended too.
All the fundraising and influence-peddling at the Trump hotel, however, has had some embarrassing and painful consequences. In April of 2018, two Soviet-born Florida residents, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, attended a small dinner for donors to America First Action at the hotel with Trump, just weeks before they kicked in $325,000 to the Super Pac.
Last October, Parnas and Fruman were arrested at Dulles airport as they were preparing to fly to Vienna and charged with making illegal campaign contributions from foreign sources. The two men have pleaded not guilty and prosecutors have signaled more charges are likely. America First has been cooperating voluntarily with prosecutors and has placed their donation in escrow.
“The usual sprint for campaign cash, combined with the additional opportunity for personal profit, appears to have added to an environment of lax vetting, leading to concerns about foreign money and indictments for campaign finance violations,” said Sheila Krumholz, who leads the Center for Responsive Politics.