Welcome to the Checks & Imbalances newsletter. Today we keep looking at a House bill that’s trying to prevent a redux of Trump’s D.C. hotel, check in on the billionaires influencing the Los Angeles mayoral race and look at the recall of San Francisco’s district attorney.
A bill filed to prevent a future president from leasing government property, as Donald Trump did with his D.C. hotel, may fall short of its sponsor’s goals, according to experts in government contracting who reviewed the bill at Forbes’ request. Although Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) said that her bill would prevent a future president from continuing to hold a lease with the government that was signed before they were sworn in, her office was unable to point to any language in the bill that would actually do that.
In 2013, Trump signed a lease for the government-owned Old Post Office. The agreement stipulated that “no member or delegate to Congress, or elected official of the Government of the United States or the Government of the District of Columbia, shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.” At the time, Trump was just a private citizen, so the clause clearly didn’t apply.
Four years later, he became president of the United States, sparking questions about whether he could maintain the lease. A career contracting officer ruled that the Trump Organization was “in full compliance” with the agreement, since Trump was “admitted” to it well before entering office.
In an attempt to close that loophole, Titus, chair of a House subcommittee with jurisdiction over government out-leasing, introduced the Outlease Reform in Public Buildings (OUR Public Buildings) Act in May. “This legislation prohibits GSA from entering into or maintaining an outlease with a current president, vice president, member of Congress, or head of an executive agency,” Titus said in a statement announcing the bill, citing Trump’s D.C. hotel as “a clear conflict of interest.”
The six-page bill clearly bars the government from a signing a lease with the president, vice president, head of an executive agency or member of Congress, but it doesn’t appear to explicitly prevent any of those office holders from continuing to lease property in a deal that was signed before they were sworn in—like Trump did.
Scott Amey, the general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan watchdog, said he could not find a clause in the bill that would bar an elected official from maintaining a pre-existing lease. Neither could Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who specializes in government ethics. “I’d recommend making such a prohibition explicit,” she said.
A third expert Forbes contacted said the bill, which is currently before Titus’ subcommittee, could theoretically be interpreted to cover a situation like Trump’s. “In the definition of the covered contracts, there’s no delimiter that would eliminate a current ongoing contract,” said Christopher Yukins, a professor in government procurement at George Washington University’s law school and former attorney at the Justice Department. As a result, Yukins said, it’s possible that a regulator or contracting official could apply the law to a leaseholder later elected to public office. No guarantees, though.
Forbes first asked Titus’ office about the confusion three weeks ago. Representatives of the congresswoman have been unable to explain how the bill would prevent a president from maintaining a lease. “The OUR Public Buildings Act is a first step to prevent elected leaders from engaging in clear conflicts of interest, like outleases, that result in personal gain,” she said in a statement on Tuesday. “This remains a top priority for me, and I will continue to explore options to prevent abuses of power no matter how some may attempt to manipulate the words of our Founding Fathers.”
If Titus really wants to prevent future presidents from doing what Trump did, however, she may have to follow up her first step with some additional changes.
Donald Trump speaks during the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C. groundbreaking ceremony in July 2014. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images)
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Ethics Expert Suggests 3 Ways To Improve Trump-Inspired Bill, Which Aims To Prevent A President From Leasing Government Property
For the Outlease Reform in Public Buildings (OUR Public Buildings) Act to prevent a situation like Trump’s rental of the Old Post Office from recurring, Kathleen Clark, the law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who specializes in government ethics, made three suggestions:
- “Specifically disapprove of the kind of specious reasoning that GSA engaged in to avoid application of the prohibition with regard to Trump.”
- Specify that the leaseholder must identify its beneficial owners, certify that they are not in prohibited categories and notify the GSA if those beneficial owners change (to prevent a leaseholder from just transferring their ownership to a trust or LLC).
- Indicate what will happen if the lease holder becomes president, vice president, a member of congress or head the of an executive agency.
In Case You Missed It
The Billionaires Betting On The Los Angeles Mayoral Race
“One billionaire is running for mayor himself. At least 5 others have lined up to stop him,” reports Matt Durot:
(Democrat Rick) Caruso, who is worth an estimated $4.3 billion, according to Forbes, has raised far more money. He self-funded his campaign with $37.5 million in personal loans–single handedly outpacing (fellow Democrat Rep. Karen) Bass’ total fundraising haul of $4.7 million by nearly eightfold, according to Los Angeles County campaign finance records. That has enabled Caruso, who also raised $750,000 from a handful of other billionaires and supporters, to flood the traditionally Democratic city with non-stop ads. (A former Republican, Caruso changed his political affiliation from no party preference to Democrat in January this year, according to the Los Angeles Times.)
Bass has powerful pocketbooks behind her too, though. She has received donations from five billionaires, each doling out the $1,500 maximum for individual contributions, including three-time Academy Award-winning director and DreamWorks studios cofounder Steven Spielberg (estimated net worth: $3.7 billion) and Sheryl Sandberg ($1.6 billion), who last week announced she’s stepping down as Meta Platforms’ chief operating officer after 14 years. Chris Larsen ($3.2 billion), the San Francisco-based cofounder of blockchain and cryptocurrency firm Ripple, also chipped in for Bass, as did Beverly Hills residents Stewart and Lynda Resnick ($8 billion combined), who made their fortune in water and agriculture.
Los Angeles mayoral candidates Karen Bass and Rick Caruso
PHOTOS FROM LEFT: LEON BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES; KYLE GRILLOT/BLOOMBERG
Updates on Checks & Imbalances’ previous reporting
“Colorado officials are examining allegations that Representative Lauren Boebert, a Republican representing the state’s western half, inflated the mileage she logged on the campaign trail in 2020 and then used more than $20,000 in reimbursements from donors to pay off years of tax liens on her restaurant,” the New York Times reported on Wednesday. Last fall, Boebert used donor money to pay her rent and utilities bills, before later reimbursing her campaign.
Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) “appears to have again violated a federal conflict-of-interest law by failing to properly report purchases and sales of six types of cryptocurrencies, according to a new congressional financial disclosure,” Insider reported on Wednesday. Cawthorn already is under a House investigation for allegedly promoting a cryptocurrency in which he had an undisclosed interest, as well as engaging in an improper relationship with a staffer.
“U.S. House Rep. Steven Palazzo, a Republican who has served Mississippi’s 4th Congressional District since 2011, will fight to save his seat in a runoff later this month after failing to secure at least 50% of the vote in Tuesday night’s Republican Party primary,” the Mississippi Free Press reported on Wednesday.
Palazzo’s campaign has spent at least $88,000 on legal fees since the House’s Office of Congressional Ethics voted 6-0 to investigate him for allegedly misusing his campaign funds, office staff and official position.
Lawmakers Investigating What Happened To Foreign Gifts Given To Trump Administration
“Democratic lawmakers have opened a probe into whether the Trump administration properly tracked the gifts it received from foreign governments, following reports that Trump-era gift records are incomplete and at least two pricey foreign gifts—including a whiskey bottle worth over $5,000—are unaccounted for,” reports Joe Walsh:
In a letter released Tuesday, House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) asked the National Archives and Records Administration to hand over any communications on foreign gifts from the last year of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Maloney noted the State Department never got a list of the gifts received in 2020 by the Trump-era White House, even though foreign countries like India and Switzerland appeared to give presents to Trump that year, according to the New York Times.
President Donald Trump walks with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud after receiving the Order of Abdulaziz al-Saud medal in Riyadh on May 20, 2017.
AFP VIA GETTY
Bay Area Investors Laud Recall Of San Francisco DA
“On Tuesday evening, voters in San Francisco overwhelmingly voted to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who ran two years ago on a politically progressive platform of decarceration and ending cash bail,” reports Cyrus Farivar:
In his concession speech in the Dogpatch neighborhood, Boudin slammed large donors’ money that was funneled into a local political action committee, which in turn, pushed hard for his departure.
“The right-wing billionaires outspent us three-to-one,” he said, according to local press accounts. “They exploited an environment in which people are appropriately upset. And they created an electoral dynamic where we were literally shadowboxing.”
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin pauses as he speaks to supporters during an election-night event on June 07, 2022 in San Francisco, California.
“Former President Donald Trump and his two oldest adult children are set to testify starting July 15 in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ (D) probe into allegations of financial fraud at the Trump Organization,” reports Nicholas Reimann.
THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Separately this week, golf stars Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau committed to the LIV Golf series, a new tour backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Two of the LIV’s eight events will take place at Trump properties. Both golfers also have connections to the former president: Trump Golf has sponsored DeChambeau, and both he and Johnson played in a fundraiser for the rebranded Eric Trump Foundation at a Trump golf course in 2019.
TWITTER/THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION
- “FBI seizes retired general’s data related to Qatar lobbying” (The Associated Press)
- “Of, by, and for the billionaires” (Popular Information)
- “Nancy Pelosi’s husband just purchased up to $2.1 million worth of Apple and Microsoft stock options” (Insider)
- “Swalwell drops 60K of campaign cash on travel, including luxury stays in Paris, Miami” (The Washington Times)
- “Coinbase adds Senate staffer amid crypto overhaul” (LegiStorm)
- “Raytheon to move headquarters to Virginia from Massachusetts” (Reuters)
- “Free Gas Cards Are the GOP’s New Campaign Gimmick—and It’s Legal” (The Daily Beast)
- “In an updated FEC filing, Mehmet Oz’s campaign says he has no intention of spending personal funds on the #PASEN general election (he said the same about the primary yet loaned his campaign $12M).” (Twitter/Derek Willis of Decision Desk HQ)
- “Ben & Jerry’s galvanizes customers to lobby for tighter gun laws after Texas, New York mass shootings” (CNBC)
- “Sheryl’s Political Headwinds, Thiel’s Sway, & Gates+” (Puck)
- “House Oversight staffer powers up” (LegiStorm)
- “Spotted at a fundraiser on Tuesday night at Sonoma for Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) hosted by Cornerstone Government Affairs’ Anthony ‘Lazer’ Lazarski and TJ Tatum, per a PI tipster: CGA’s Chris Hodgson and Joe Bischoff, Fierce Government Relations’ Eric Zulkosky, Bristow Group’s John Seale, Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America’s Ali Gormley, NASCAR’s Jordan Jiloty, KPMG’s Adam Wolf, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Paul Gutierrez, Beer Institute’s Annie Starke Lange and American Society of Radiation Oncologists’ Courtney Williams.” (Politico)
“Uh-huh, what up son? Yeah
Maintaining, maintaining, you know?”
– Raekwon, “New Wu”