During the President-elect’s term in office, The Trump Organization should donate its profits to the US Government.
It’s simply about alignment of interests. For months, there has been talk of blind trusts, divestitures, and executive privilege. It seems clear that because of the sheer size and 2015 total revenue of The Trump Organization, a blind trust would be nearly impossible to implement. Perhaps more importantly, the Trump name is so intertwined with the strategy of the company that it is virtually impossible for management or governance of the organization to be truly detached from association with the President-elect. Any reasonably-timed divestiture would be extremely difficult given the illiquidity of the Trump Organization assets. And maintaining business ownership in over two dozen countries while stepping into the Oval Office does not satisfy the terms laid out in the Emoluments Clause of the United States Constitution nor should it satisfy the American public. The Office of Government Ethics has recently commented on this familial transfer of management authority to the President-elect’s sons, and has opined that this does not eliminate conflicts of interest under 18 U.S.C. § 208.
So it dawned on me that there is one very simple solution. During the President-elect’s term(s) in office, The Trump Organization could pass all of its profits (including ongoing profits from deals made while in office) to the United States Government. Specifically, to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, which administers a variety of benefits and services that provide financial and other forms of assistance to Servicemembers, Veterans, their dependents and survivors. This strategic transfer of funds would create a shared interest. It would serve the President-elect’s political interests as expressed in his plan for VA reform, help millions of Americans who fight for our country overseas, and ultimately benefit taxpayers.
While The Trump Organization is private and is therefore not subject to public scrutiny, the President-elect could also decide to have the company adhere to more rigorous public company disclosure and reporting requirements. This would include the disclosure of financial statements and annual 10-K reports discussing the state of the company, allowing regulators to view quarterly reports and audits as if The Trump Organization were a publicly traded company. Doing so could satisfy concerns about corporate governance, partnerships, accounting methods, and the veracity of profits which are being distributed to the government as part of the above plan.
With this, in one stroke of a pen, a major portion of Trump’s conflicts of interest could be solved. Aligning interests by channeling his company’s profits to an important government entity should at least assuage the public’s (and The Office of Government Ethics’) worry that his companies may profit or benefit from policy decisions while in office.
While still imperfect, I feel this idea has merit. Of course, any efforts to address such conflicts of interest require a willingness by the President-elect to adhere to a strong code of ethics, given that laws themselves cannot force absolute compliance. I would be most interested to hear what others have to say — especially the President-elect.
Hannah Levien contributed to this article.