This Friday, after months of preparation, the House passed Democrats’ inaugural legislative effort as the new majority — the sweeping ethics reform package H.R. 1, otherwise known as the For the People Act, which includes provisions like a requirement for major party vice presidential and presidential nominees to release their past ten years worth of both business and personal tax returns. If they refuse, the Federal Election Commission’s chairperson would be able to request the documents from the Treasury Department.
Breaking with decades of precedent for major party presidential candidates — not to mention presidents — Donald Trump has consistently refused to release his personal tax returns despite having at one point promised to do so, thereby keeping concerned outsiders from being able to scrutinize his personal financial ties.
What we know publicly has already indicated there’s plenty to be concerned about on that front. For example, the Trump Organization’s D.C. hotel has acted as a magnet for political interests easily seen as hoping for positive inroads with the president. In a particularly egregious display back towards the beginning of his presidency, Saudi-funded lobbyists spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at the facility — and the cash flow hasn’t exactly stopped since.
Trump Organization profits from the D.C. hotel have consistently been high. According to financial disclosure paperwork that became available late last year, the Trump-branded destination brought in some $40.4 million in the calendar year 2017 after having garnered some $19.7 million in profits between its opening in October 2016 and mid-April 2017. Besides the Saudis, officials and/or lobbyists for the governments of Kuwait and Malaysia also utilized the hotel, to say nothing of the significant array of domestic interests who have done the same.
Trump still benefits personally from all of this business activity since he refused to financially divest from his businesses upon taking office, instead simply ceding executive control.
Adding yet another issue, his D.C. hotel scooped up more than $350,000 in campaign funds in the 2017 calendar year, a majority of which came from events hosted by the Republican National Committee. In early 2017, Trump’s inaugural committee spent a whopping $1.5 million at his D.C. hotel — which figures into what are now three investigations into the committee from state and federal authorities.
Besides potentially illegal self-dealing and foreign and domestic political interests — where else has Trump’s income come from, and how accountable to tax authorities has he really been for his properties? These answers remain elusive in part because of the continued absence of Trump’s tax returns.
The For the People Act is unlikely to become law with a Republican majority in the Senate and Donald Trump in the White House, but it lays a potential groundwork for future Democratic leaders anyway. In the meantime, Democrats could pursue other means to get Trump’s tax returns, including a legally allowed request from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.).
Besides calling for the release of presidential tax returns, HR 1’s broad ethical concerns include a ban on government-funded first class travel for officials, increased scrutiny of donors to political organizations, and even a national voter registration program to help avoid state-level suppression efforts from Republicans.
Unsurprisingly, the GOP has freaked out at the legislation. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) whined that Democrats “want the government to interfere in our free and fair elections” — seemingly unaware of who oversees elections even now. (Hint: it’s the government.)
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has suggested that having Election Day be a national holiday as the legislation makes happen would simply let Democrats have extra campaigning time, sticking to the literally hundreds of years old line that Election Day should be on a Tuesday in November, period.
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