Conflict of Interest Laws: Business Ties Under the New Administration

Ava Kazerouni SFS 2019

Upon confirmation of his winning the election, questions have arisen regarding Trump’s relations to his businesses and how it will affect his role as president. In the past, most presidents were career politicians, thus the matter of maintaining business ties have been of little importance. Presidents who did have businesses in the past, such as Carter and George W. Bush, made sure to separate themselves from those businesses upon election [1].

Trump, however is much more heavily invested in these businesses, as they are the basis of his career. Though it would seem likely that there would be laws regulating government officials, especially the president, from maintaining business ties once acting as commander in chief, there is actually little regulation in this regard [2]. There are regulations for the legislative and judicial branches, however, laws regarding the president are much more vague and are not as fully developed [3].

Though he has handed the reigns of the Trump Organization to his children, he is still able to exert influence over the organization, and he has given those same children considerable influence in the White House. However, because most of the organization is dealing with domestic business, there is no regulation written in law to prohibit Trump from having ties to it [4]. The absence of these regulatory laws could be because Trump’s business experience is unprecedented for a United States president, but the oversight might be reconsidered in the changing political climate and the recent election. A president being able to exert influence over personal business matters can become dangerous, as it will undoubtedly influence political and economic decisions.

The only possible legal prohibition regarding Trump’s businesses would be due to his foreign investments. Section One, Article Nine in the Constitution, called the Emoluments Clause, has received attention recently by groups hoping to prevent Trump from maintaining his business connections during his presidency [5]. The clause states, “no Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” Thus presidents are not permitted to receive any foreign gifts [6].

The group that is suing Trump is claiming that these “gifts” can be interpreted as a payment for an exchange of services, and not just actual presents from a foreign government [7]. If the court system agrees with them, it will restrict Trump’s many businesses from providing services to foreign governments, something that it has done repeatedly. Trump’s lawyers are claiming that on the contrary, a gift is different from a payment for a service provided by Trump’s company, and Trump himself has denied any illegal actions by his company [8].

Whether this lawsuit will win or not is yet to be determined, however, it is clear that the nation is entering a new political climate. Due to this unprecedented election, the nation is attempting to reconcile its thoughts on a president with such a different background than what has come to be expected since the founding of the country. This attempt is manifesting itself in a push for increased regulation on an executive who seems determined to increase his own powers.

[1] Julie Bykowicz, “Why Conflict of Interest Laws Apply Differently to the President,” PBS News Hour (November 30, 2016), http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/conflict-interest-rules-apply-differently-president/

[2] Bykowicz

[3] Bykowicz

[4] British Broadcasting Company, “Donald Trump: A List of Potential Conflicts of Interest,” (January 10, 2017). http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38069298

[5] James Dennin, “One Clause in the US Constitution Could Put Trump’s Foreign Business Connections in Jeopardy,” Business Insider (November 22, 2016). http://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-business-connections-us-constitution-2016-11

[6] Fahrenthold, David and Jonathan O’Connell, “What is the ‘Emoluments Clause’? Does it Apply to President Trump?” The Washington Post (January 23, 2017).

[7] Fahrenthold, David and Jonathan O’Connell

[8] Fahrenthold, David and Jonathan O’Connell

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