A Lot Of Lobbyists Are Holding Their Annual Events In Trump Properties

Some of the groups say their events were planned years ago, but even the appearance of conflicts of interest can pose problems.

WASHINGTON ― The American Land Title Association, the main lobbying arm of the title insurance industry, will host 1,000 members at its annual gathering this October, which will be held at the Trump National Doral golf course and resort in southern Florida.

The annual event, known as ALTA One, provides members with the “opportunity to network and build relationships with colleagues,” according to an invite for the event. It will also allow an organization actively lobbying President Donald Trump’s administration to put money in the president’s pocket.

When Trump took office, he decided to maintain ownership of the multibillion-dollar Trump Organization while transferring management responsibility to his two adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric. By not fully separating himself from his business and its profits, he opened himself up to numerous conflicts of interest, both real and potential. That the president’s many properties routinely play host to the conferences and conventions of the groups now seeking to influence his policy decisions is one of them.

“It’s a problem,” said Larry Noble, an ethics and campaign finance law expert at the Campaign Legal Center. “The appearance is that they may be seeking favor with the White House by supporting the president’s properties.”

The title insurance industry is indeed looking to influence executive branch actions in lobbying for relief from regulations under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. Specifically, the industry has lobbied for legislation to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, seeking to turn it into an independent commission with a board of commissioners that both Republicans and Democrats would appoint. The bureau imposed new disclosure rules on the industry in 2016.

Trump has promised to dismantle the Dodd-Frank law. “We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank,” he said in a Feb. 3 meeting with Wall Street CEOs. But Trump has not yet said what he plans to do with the CFPB. Some congressional Republicans continue to push legislation ALTA has previously supported that would turn the bureau into an independent commission. Another group is calling on Trump to fire CFPB head Richard Cordray and replace him with someone more friendly to the industries the bureau regulates.

President Donald Trump with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe golfing at the president's Trump National Doral course.
President Donald Trump with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe golfing at the president's Trump National Doral course.
JIJI PRESS via Getty Images

ALTA’s October meeting is just one example of a Trump-owned property playing host to a lobbying organization.

The National Confectioners Association, the candy industry’s lobby arm, hosted its annual meeting at Trump’s Doral property in the first week of March. The confectioners have also scheduled their next two Washington lobbying events at the Trump hotel, slated for September 2017 and 2018. According to the Washington Post, the candy lobby group wants the president and Congress to end sugar subsidies, which the industry says drive up the cost of candy production.

Members of the Metals Service Center Institute, an advocacy group for the industrial metal supply industry, will be descending on Doral on May 7 and 8. The Metals Service Center Institute has been outspoken in supporting Trump’s decision to restart construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, which the Obama administration had blocked after nationwide protests. The group has also endorsed Trump’s trade policies, his push to repeal and replace Obamacare and his appointment of Robert Lighthizer as the U.S. trade representative, who the industry believes will be tough on China’s alleged trade law violations.

“I’m more hopeful today than I have been in a long time,” M. Robert Weidner, president and CEO of the Metals Service Center Institute, said in a statement when Trump was inaugurated.

Weidner added: “We are pleased with the agenda the new president outlined today—specifically when it comes to protecting American jobs and American industry and rebuilding our infrastructure—and look forward to working with him and the entire Trump administration so that we can return growth to the industrial metals sector, and the U.S. economy as a whole.”

The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., will also play host to the 36th Annual Conference on U.S.-Turkish Relations this May. The American-Turkish Council and the Turkey-U.S. Business Council are hosting the three-day event, which the Daily Caller first reported. The chairman of the latter group is Ekim Alptekin, the Turkish businessman who hired former national security adviser Michael Flynn to run a public relations campaign against exiled cleric Fetullah Gulen, a man the Turkish government wants the U.S. to extradite for his alleged role in a 2016 coup attempt.

The American-Turkish Council and the Turkey-U.S. Business Council both work to increase bilateral trade between the U.S. and Turkey. Their annual event routinely features high-level administration officials. In 2016, featured speakers from the Obama administration included energy secretary Ernest Moniz, trade representative Michael Froman and deputy secretary of state Tony Blinken. This year, Trump administration officials will appear at an event that is directly profiting the president.

Most of these events were planned well before Trump became president or even launched his campaign. The confectioners lobby group told The Washington Post that it selected the venues in 2014 and 2015. The title insurance industry group told The Huffington Post that it booked its event at Trump National Doral “three years ago.”

“Decisions on where to hold ALTA events are driven by cost, rotating geography for our membership, comparative value to other options and how the facility performed if they previously hosted an event of ours,” Jeremy Yohe, vice president of communications for ALTA, said in an email.

Noble acknowledged that these trade groups probably did plan these events far ahead of time, but that they still pose “a real appearance problem.”

While lobbying groups may get a pass for now, their future choices will receive closer scrutiny.

“Next year there’ll be fewer excuses for this,” Noble said.

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