Donald Trump is first and foremost a businessman. He used his status as such to convince many Americans he could run the nation like a business and help "make America great again." However, his business dealings continue to raise questions about potential conflicts of interest and whether or not he's profiting from his 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue address.
According to President Trump's 2017 financial disclosure released by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics on Friday, he made $37 million from his Palm Beach, Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, from January 2016 through April 2017. The same property is listed as bringing in almost $30 million on Trump's 2016 disclosure and $16 million on the 2015 form.
Similarly, the nearby Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida brought in $20 million last year, compared to nearly $18 million the year before and $12 million two years before.
It's difficult to calculate exactly how much more money Trump has made since starting his campaign and taking office, as it's unclear if the previous years' reports cover the same time frame. He also refuses to release his tax returns, making it impossible to examine all of his finances.
Nevertheless, properties he's visited less than Mar-a-Lago (including his Bedminster, NJ golf course, which he didn't visit as president until May) saw either no change or a decrease in profit in the last year, while Mar-a-Lago's earnings continue to increase.
Trump made a show of separating himself from his business empire before officially taking office, holding a press conference in which he showed off a table overflowing with documents he claimed gave control of the Trump Organization to his two sons (reporters weren't allowed to look at said documents).
But, he didn't sell the company, so he can still profit from it.
The constitution has an anti-corruption clause to prevent conflicts of interest known as the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits the president from receiving gifts and benefits from foreign governments. In fact, the city of Washington, D.C., state of Maryland, and almost 200 congressional Democrats are suing the president for alleged conflicts of interest.
The Justice Department responded to a previous conflict of interest lawsuit, claiming Trump can legally benefit from foreign governments booking rooms or holding events at Trump hotels because the Emoluments Clause wasn't meant to apply to fair-market transactions "that a President (or other federal official) may engage in as an ordinary citizen through his business enterprises." The department also claimed presidents have benefitted in similar ways since President George Washington led the country, but no president has ever had as big of a business empire or as many potential conflicts of interest as Trump.
Even if no foreign governments were staying in Trump's hotels, making money off the presidency goes against everything the position represents. It's no secret that some people seek office for power and fame, or that former presidents make money from book deals and speaking engagements once out of office. However, the ability to make money while in office turns the presidency into a money grab.
If presidents can profit from the Oval Office, it skews their interests away from protecting and helping the American people and toward filling their pockets.