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Thursday
Jan182018

Trump businesses see ups and downs a year into the presidency

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- With his first year in office coming to a close, President Donald Trump recently asked a rally crowd in Pensacola, Florida to consider what he gave up as a businessman in order to pursue the presidency.

"Think where I would be right now if I couldn't I didn't do this," Trump said to cheers. "I would be very happy, believe me."

The line is a frequent public musing by the president, suggesting an awareness of the trade-offs inherent in stepping back from running a family business and accepting a role in government.

As president, Trump resigned as head of his business empire, turning over day to day control of his company to his two sons. But he did not fully divest from his financial holdings, breaking with precedent set by previous presidents to avoid potential conflicts of interest and drawing protests from government ethics watchdogs.

"There could be a potential upside and a potential downside [to Trump] maintaining ties with his businesses," said Kathleen Clark, who serves on the D.C. Bar Rules of Professional Conduct Review Committee.

Here's what we know about how Trump's actions as president may have impacted family businesses, based on publicly available information:

The Upside

President Trump has shown that the power and influence of the nation's highest elected office can translate into increased interest in properties bearing the presidential name.

During the first year of his term, Trump visited or stayed at a Trump family-owned property a total of 109 days, by ABC News' count, including out of town stays at Trump Tower in New York, Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., and Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.

"Trump businesses have done relatively well where he has been able to leverage the presidency on their behalf, but the properties that have not featured his presence have not benefited," Clark said.

In a statement to ABC News the Trump Organization disputed that Trump has directly influenced his businesses during his first year in office.

"President Trump resigned from the Trump Organization as previously stated. He is our president and is running the country," the statement read. "Now, Don Jr. and Eric Trump have taken the reins and are leading The Trump Organization alongside the Company’s leadership team. They are making all decisions regarding the future of assets and operations."

But critics have accused some of the Trump-owned clubs of deliberately marketing and attempting to cash in on the opportunity to rub elbows with the commander in chief.

The Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. in early 2017 distributed a flyer advertising a potential presidential drop-by to those searching out a wedding venue, a promotion later discontinued according to the New York Times.

"If he is on-site for your big day, he will likely stop in & congratulate the happy couple," the brochure read, according to the Times. "He may take some photos with you but we ask you and your guests to be respectful of his time & privacy.”

Trump himself has even publicly promoted several of the clubs during public appearances on official U.S. government business.

"Korean golfers are some of the best on Earth," Trump said in a November speech to the South Korean National Assembly. "The Women’s U.S. Open was held this year at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., and it just happened to be won by a great Korean golfer, Sung-hyun Park."

Neither the club nor Trump organization responded to ABC News' previous request for comment when the news was first reported.

Shortly after the 2016 election, membership fees at Mar-a-Lago doubled to $200,000, several members confirmed to ABC News, not including annual dues which reportedly run as high as $14,000.

Neither the resort nor Trump organization responded to ABC News' previous request for comment when the story first broke.

The Trump property closest to the White House — the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. — has also benefited from the presidential spotlight.

The hotel has become a staple of the pro-Trump social scene in Washington and a go-to hosting ground for Republican groups. According to one FEC filing, the RNC paid the hotel $122,000 after hosting a major fundraiser there in June. Foreign dignitaries and allied groups are regularly seen in the posh lobby and bar areas -- some there for conferences in the ballrooms and meeting areas.

Overall, income from Trump properties increased to the tune of tens of millions of dollars in 2016 largely thanks to revenue generated from Trump's properties, according to a financial disclosure report released by the White House earlier this year.

President Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign paid out more than $475,000 in rent alone during the first eight months of 2017 for their headquarters based out of Trump Tower in New York. FEC disclosures also show dozens of expenditures by the campaign for lodging at the Trump hotel in D.C. with totals ranging between $200 to $1500.

After the election, President Trump's sons - Don Trump, Jr., and Eric Trump - announced plans to expand their hotel operation, citing their time on the 2016 campaign trail as a source of inspiration.

"This is real America," Eric Trump told ABC News in June. "And to be able to go in there and, you know, cater to them, as well, I think that's a beautiful thing."

In June, the Trump Organization announced plans to grow two new hotel chains, including "Scion," a 4 star chain targeting smaller markets and "American Idea," a more budget-friendly hotel group.

Both brothers dismissed the idea that the hotel chain expansion could put a further spotlight on their father's continued influence in the business and whether it amounts to making money off of politics. But six months later, there's little clarity on where the two hotel chains stand in terms of meeting their development goals.

Only one business partner for the Scion line has been announced and a planned construction of a Scion hotel in Cleveland, Mississippi has hit a standstill, according to local reports.

The Downside

Not all of President Trump's businesses have been booming in the wake of his election.

Trump’s two Scottish golf courses suffered millions in losses in 2016, according to financial disclosures made public in October from Britain’s Companies House.

The disclosures showed Trump’s Turnberry resort, a treasured property for Trump that he purchased just one year before announcing his presidential bid, lost $23 million in 2016 with revenue dropping more than 20 percent to just north of $12 million. Separately, Trump International Golf Club north of Aberdeen, opened in 2012, posted over $1.8 million in losses.

In the filings, Eric Trump acknowledged the losses for Turnberry, saying they were “due to the resort being open for six months in the current year” and that the directors believed “the resort will return to profitability in the short to medium term.”

There is no mention of whether President Trump’s unpopularity in the U.K. may be at all to blame for the shortfall, despite a flood of public rebukes of President Trump from British and Scottish political figures over his immigration rhetoric, his criticism of the U.K.’s handling of terrorism and his controversial response to the protests in Charlottesville this summer.

Some of Trump's stateside properties have seen declining interest from charities and nonprofit groups who had been regular customers of the venues for splashy fundraising events and galas.

In September, ABC News reported that at least 21 charities and organizations cancelled or moved events they had previously scheduled at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort following the president’s response to the unrest in Charlottesville.

Trump-associated properties weren't the only ones to take a hit. Shortly after Trump took office, Nordstrom and Nieman Marcus announced they would no longer sell products from Ivanka Trump's clothing and accessory line citing sales declines during the back half of 2016.

The Unknown

The full impact of the presidency on Trump's finances and financial holdings cannot be known without greater transparency.

While the president has personally said his net worth exceeds $10 billion, a recent estimate by Forbes has suggested the president's net worth dropped significantly from $3.7 billion in 2016 to $3.1 billion in 2017, citing "a tough New York real estate market, a costly lawsuit, and an expensive presidential campaign."

President Trump remains defiant in his refusal to release his tax returns, with the White House still insisting his returns remain "under audit" but refusing to provide any evidence to back up the claim.

Without seeing the returns it is impossible to assess how the recently passed GOP tax cut bill might personally affect the president or his family members, though the White House has stood by President Trump's repeated assertions the plan would hurt him financially.

Independent analyses have contradicted the president's claim he'd suffer under the tax plan, however, pointing to how Trump and his family business would benefit from the repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax and the overall reduction of the tax rate on the wealthiest of Americans.

Also unclear is whether the Trump Organization will follow through with the president's commitment to donate to the U.S. Treasury all payments made by foreign governments to the Trump International Hotel in D.C.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Democratic ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, raised concerns in May about a pamphlet allegedly distributed to senior Trump Organization employees stating it would be "impractical" to single out foreign guests in identifying potential payments to channel to the Treasury.

In a statement to ABC News, the Trump Organization said it expects to have more information on its plan to donate foreign profits "towards the end of February 2018."

“Our fiscal year ends on December 31, 2017," the statement said. "As typical with businesses finalizing their annual financial reporting, we expect to have information available to share towards the end of February 2018.”

A new report released Tuesday by the liberal watchdog group Public Citizen documented 64 instances of trade groups, companies, religious groups, charities, foreign governments, interest groups, and political candidates staying in Trump properties or having events there during the first year of Trump's presidency.

The 'Emoluments' case against the president, a legal effort mostly spearheaded by left-leaning government watchdog groups, hit a snag just this month when a U.S. District Judge tossed out a lawsuit accusing President Trump of violating the Constitution. The judge in the case ruled that Congress was instead "the appropriate body to determine" whether the president was in violation and that the plaintiffs had not proved "competitive injury" in a way the Emoluments Clause was designed to prevent.

While the group has said its exploring legal options to appeal the ruling, ethics experts point to two other lawsuits that they claim has left the emoluments issue still open for potential enforcement.

The White House declined to comment following inquiries from ABC News for this piece.

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