President-elect Donald Trump at his Wednesday press conference responded to critics who had charged that foreign entities could seek to curry favor with his administration simply by staying in his hotels.
His tax attorney Sheri Dillon, speaking to reporters as Trump stood alongside, asserted that the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bans acceptance of gifts from foreign leaders, does not apply to hotel guests making “value for value” payments for staying in the hotels.
“Just like with conflicts of interest, he wants to do more than what the Constitution requires,” she said. “So President-elect Trump has decided, and we are announcing today, that he is going to voluntarily donate all profits from foreign government payments made to his hotels to the United States Treasury. This way it is the American people who will profit.”
» Get the best federal news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.
According to the Treasury Department, such donations or bequests based on “patriotism” have been permitted since 1843. “Citizens who wish to make a general donation to the U.S. government may send contributions to a specific account called 'Gifts to the United States,'" the department’s website says. “Money deposited into this account is for general use by the federal government and can be available for budget needs. These contributions are considered an unconditional gift to the government.”
Gifts cannot be earmarked for specific programs but can be steered specifically to reduce the federal debt. Treasury’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service, which tracks such gifts, reported that $2.7 million was given in fiscal 2016. It lays out conditions:
- Money, made only on the condition that it be used to reduce debt held by the public;
- An outstanding government obligation, made only on the condition that the obligation be retired and the redemption proceeds used to reduce debt held by the public;
- Other intangible personal property made only on the condition that the property is sold and the proceeds from the sale used to reduce the public debt.
In December, the Kuwaiti government raised some eyebrows when it moved its annual holiday party to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, which is leased to Trump by the General Services Administration.