Donald Trump is being paid millions in membership fees for his golf clubs, and a new report reveals that those members are meeting directly with Trump, giving them the ability to influence how the government operates.
Donald Trump is being paid millions of dollars by private members of his golf clubs in exchange for unprecedented access to the presidency, with the ability to influence his decision-making unavailable to ordinary Americans.
USA Today reports that "for the first time in U.S. history, wealthy people with interests before the government have a chance for close and confidential access to the president as a result of payments that enrich him personally."
Among those with access to Trump via the golf connection are 50 executives with companies that have federal contracts, along with 21 lobbyists and trade group officials.
Two-thirds of the members in question played golf on one of the 58 days Trump also played rounds of golf since taking office.
Those lobbyists and CEOs pay "initiation fees that can exceed $100,000, plus thousands more in annual dues to his companies" — all to gain access to Trump.
After he won the election, Trump was caught on tape telling his golf club members they were "the special people" and inviting them to come with him to interview prospective Cabinet members.
An example of the unseemly ethical situation can be seen in the case of Jay Vroom. Vroom is the CEO of CropLife America, a pesticide trade group that has been petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency not to ban chlorpyrifos, an insecticide that can damage children's brains.
Vroom is one of the Trump golf club members who played a round alongside Trump. In March, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said the government would not impose new restrictions on chlorpyrifos, despite the objections of the EPA's own scientists and environmental watchdog groups.
It certainly raises questions about the influence Vroom may have exerted on the golf course to achieve this favorable determination from the EPA.
Who has access to Trump at his golf clubs has been a closely guarded secret. When President Barack Obama was in office, his golf partners were disclosed to the national media. But Trump's White House is unwilling to admit when he's playing golf, let alone who's joining him on the links.
The secrecy is part of Trump's rolling back of the Obama-era decision to disclose White House visitors. Without investigative reporting, it has been almost impossible to uncover who is meeting with Trump and exercising influence over how the U.S. government is operating.
Despite his complaints about Obama playing golf, Trump has spent almost every weekend of his presidency on golf outings, using the visibility of his office to promote his golf clubs.
Trump has created a classic pay-to-play situation for those well-heeled individuals who can afford membership in his clubs because Trump has refused to distance himself from his businesses. In a stark departure from presidential tradition, Trump has refused to divest from his resorts and other holdings or even put , nor has he put it in a blind trust. His sons Donald Jr. and Eric run his businesses, and Trump continues to personally profit from them.
Eric Trump even admitted that he and his father continue to discuss key business issues related to their private business, even while he is in the presidency — making decisions that can benefit his personal bottom line.
Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics, told USA Today, "I think we’re all in new territory. We never thought we’d see anyone push the outer limits in this way." Trump's abuse of ethics guidelines prompted Shaub to leave his position in July, and he is focused on reining in Trump-style corruption in government.
The exposé of Trump's golf club, and the power it has given to elites at the cost of the public, shows that unfortunately, Shaub and others will have a lot of work to do.