By Ben Wieder and Anita Kumar / McClatchy Washington Bureau
BEDMINSTER, N.J. — At least 125 Republican campaigns and conservative political groups spent more than $3.5 million at President Donald Trump’s resorts, hotels and restaurants since January 2017, the month he was sworn in, according to an analysis by McClatchy.
The money paid for catering for a fundraiser at the Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., a night’s stay at Trump’s golf club in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., and many meals at Trump International Hotel in Washington through June 30, according to the most recent information provided to the Federal Election Commission.
The list includes Trump supporters like House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, Rep. Roger Williams of Texas and Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, chairman of the Freedom Caucus, a group of influential conservative members.
By comparison, candidates and political groups spent less than $35,000 at Trump properties for the entire two-year 2014 election cycle, according to FEC records. The biggest spender was former Rep. Allen West’s leadership fund, which spent more than $15,000 on fundraising expenses at Mar-a-Lago.
America First Action, a super PAC dedicated to electing federal candidates who support Trump’s agenda, has been one of the biggest spenders since 2017, spending more than $225,000 on rental fees, catering, lodging and meals, primarily at the Trump hotel in Washington D.C.
“The simple fact is that our supporters and friends are excited when we do so,” the group’s spokeswoman Erin Montgomery said. “It’s a unique experience for them, they are excellent locations, and the staff are wonderful to work with.”
Trump ignored calls to fully separate from his business interests when he became president. Instead, he placed his holdings in a trust designed to hold assets for his “exclusive benefit,” which he can receive at any time. He retains the authority to revoke the trust.
“Rather than fully divest his properties, Trump has raised the art of the self-deal to unprecedented heights, allowing political campaigns to effectively pay tribute to the most powerful person in today’s Republican Party through spending at Trump’s own properties,” said Alan Zibel, research director at Public Citizen’s Corporate Presidency Project, which has conducted some research into the spending of federal agencies and political groups at Trump businesses.
The Trump Organization, the collective name for about 500 Trump businesses owned by the president and now run by his adult sons, often does not own the developments but rather earns money by licensing its name and managing the properties.
The Trump properties that have benefited the most have been Trump’s Washington hotel and the Trump National Doral in Miami, which have each seen more than $1 million in spending this cycle. The Mar-a-Lago club has seen nearly $370,000 in spending.
Since 2017, the biggest spenders have been Republican Party committees — including the Republican National Committee, the Republican Governors Association and the National Republican Senate Committee — and Trump himself.
Republican Party committees have spent just under $2 million at Trump properties, with more than $1 million of that at the Trump National Doral, home to the Republican Party’s spring meeting this year. They also spent more than $375,000 at Trump hotel in Washington and nearly $350,000 at Mar-a-Lago.
Trump’s campaign has spent more than $800,000 at various Trump properties and entities, including nearly $700,000 in rent at multiple Trump properties. It spent more than $70,000 on rental and catering costs at Trump hotels and properties in Washington, Las Vegas and New York and more than $50,000 on lodging at Trump properties, nearly all of which was at the Trump hotel in Washington.
Besides the national party groups, candidates and their fundraising arms have spent more than $375,000 at various Trump properties, with nearly 90 percent of that spending coming at the Trump Hotel in Washington and its restaurants and bars.
Even Republicans who aren’t exactly fans of the president spent money at Trump properties, though no Democrats did.
The campaign and leadership PAC of Rep. Jeff Denham of California, who helped lead a failed effort opposed by Trump to circumvent House leaders and force a vote on granting citizenship to so-called Dreamers, has spent more than $1,300 at the Trump hotel in Washington.
“We hosted a fundraiser there, and there’s no significance to it being owned by President Trump,” said a Denham campaign aide, who declined to be quoted by name.
The campaign of Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who has said Trump lacks the stability and competence to be successful, spent more than $1,000 on lodging at Trump’s hotel in Washington. The campaign of Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas, who joined with Democrats recently to push for an investigation of the Trump administration for separating children from their parents at the southern border, spent more than $350 for lodging in Chicago. And the campaign and leadership PAC of Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has raised objections to Trump nominees and once dubbed Trump an “orange-faced windbag,” have spent $400 at the Trump National Golf Course outside Washington, D.C., and more than $2,000 at BLT Prime steakhouse in Trump’s Washington hotel.
“We host small donor events there, and also hold them at plenty of other restaurants in D.C.,” said Paul spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper. “Donors love that location, and when you’re raising money it makes sense to hold events where the donors like to be.”
Yoder’s campaign declined to comment. Corker’s campaign did not respond to questions.
Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Schuster’s campaign has been among the biggest spenders — plunking down more than $30,000 on event fees at the Trump Hotel in Washington and its BLT Prime steakhouse in 2017 and 2018.
Also on the list: Greg Pence, who is running for the House in Indiana in the same seat his younger brother, Vice President Mike Pence, held. He spent more than $14,000 in fundraising and lodging expenses at the Trump Hotel in Washington and more than $750 for lodging at the Trump Hotel in New York. His son, John Pence, works for Trump’s re-election campaign, which is based in Trump Tower in New York.
Mike Pence’s leadership PAC has spent the most of any candidate-affiliated group, spending more than $115,000 on rental fees and food and beverage costs at the Trump hotel in Washington.
Six of the 29 fundraisers Trump headlined through the end of July — which benefited Trump’s re-election campaign, America First Action and Republican committees — took place at Trump resorts, golf courses or hotels in Washington, Palm Beach and his golf course in Bedminster, N.J.
Since his inauguration, Trump has visited one of his properties, usually in Florida, New Jersey or Virginia on 175 days, sometimes more than one a day, according to a compilation of information released by the White House. Trump spends many weekends at Mar-a-Lago in the winter and Bedminster in the summer. Trump is on a 10-day vacation to Bedminster and returns Monday.
The visits have led to so much publicity — and perhaps additional customers — that ethics experts have accused him of using his office to make money. Immediately following his election, Mar-a-Lago doubled its initiation fee to $200,000.
Trump even wondered if he would make money off the presidency one day. “It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it,” Trump said in a 2000 interview with Fortune.