Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, the state’s top legal officer, contracted with President Donald Trump’s Miami golf resort to host a crime prevention conference, despite the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against his accepting money from a state.
The conference, set for late May, has been indefinitely postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic before any payments “were made or due,” said Lauren Cassedy, a spokesperson in Moody’s office.
Cassedy, though, would not explain why Moody, a Republican who was elected to the statewide job in 2018 after receiving Trump’s endorsement, chose to award the contract to Trump’s resort in the first place. Under its terms, some $70,000 of Florida taxpayer money likely would have gone to Trump National Doral. Nonprofit groups, local governments and others attending the event that had been set for late May likely would have spent an additional $600,000.
“If the state of Florida is paying money to the business that the president continues to own and profit from, then it would appear to be a pretty clear violation of the Constitution’s domestic emoluments clause,” said Jordan Libowitz with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group that has criticized federal payments flowing to Trump since he took office three years ago. “This isn’t some obscure local law, this is literally the Constitution. Everyone needs to follow it. A state’s highest law enforcement official should know better.”
The U.S. Constitution states in Article II: “The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.”
Cathy Ennis, who signed the April 19, 2019, contract as the representative for Trump’s golf resort, told HuffPost: “The money is not going to the president, it is going to Trump Doral,” and then hung up.
Her assertion, however, is not correct. Trump Doral is owned by the Trump Organization, which in turn is owned by a revocable trust Trump set up just before taking office in 2017. Trump is the sole beneficiary of that trust, meaning he is the only one who reaps the profits from all of Trump Organization’s income streams, including his various golf courses, his Mar-a-Lago country club in Palm Beach and Trump Tower in Manhattan.
Under the terms of the contract, obtained by the Democratic group American Bridge under Florida’s public records laws, the state Attorney General’s office had agreed to rent an average of 250 rooms at Doral each night for six nights, at a cost of $129 per night for the 2020 “National Conference on Preventing Crime.”
Meeting rooms are included in the contract, but meals are not — meaning the 1,500 expected guests would likely spend close to $100 per day each for food at the resort’s restaurants.
Also included, according to the contract, was access to a golf clinic, a golf practice area and a free shuttle bus each day to “exclusive beach access” in Miami Beach – even though, under Florida law, all beaches are public.
Cassedy said that bids were solicited and accepted by the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, and that Moody’s office chose the lowest bidder, which was Trump Doral. She did not respond, despite repeated queries, why the resort was allowed to bid at all, given its ownership and the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition.
This would be first time since Trump bought the resort in 2012 that that conference would be held there. Previous conferences were held in Tampa, Jacksonville, Orlando and Miami — none at a Trump property.
Doral, like most of Trump’s properties with the exception of Mar-a-Lago, his golf club in Bedminster and his hotel a few blocks from the White House, has reportedly suffered financially since Trump took office because of his unpopularity with most Americans.
Exactly how well or poorly Doral is doing, and how much it puts into Trump’s personal bank account, however, cannot be determined because he has refused to release his tax returns. His latest financial disclosure statement claims he earned $75,962,848 from Mar-a-Lago in calendar year 2018, but Trump appears to conflate net profit with gross revenues, based on a HuffPost analysis of figures he has filed on the document compared to other official filings.
During the Republican National Committee meeting there in 2018, the property appeared to be skimping on maintenance costs. At least one of the guest buildings smelled of mildew, as did its guest rooms, while the restaurant on the lower floor in the main lodge had a mustiness mixed with the fraternity house odor of spilled alcohol.
Nearly two years later, at this January’s RNC meeting, the mustiness appears to remain, at least in some areas. The downstairs restaurant, however, seems to have eliminated the stale beer odor.