Donald Trump stands to personally profit from the legislative agenda he is expected to push in his first 100 days, raising questions about whether he can separate his financial interest from his public office without totally cutting ties from his business empire.
The top items on the president-elect’s policy checklist — from rewriting the tax code to scrapping Wall Street regulations to repealing Obamacare — have for years been Republican orthodoxy. But Trump could see a direct benefit to muscling though broad tax cuts and eliminating regulations: billions of dollars in new savings for him and his family and fresh revenue for his business portfolio, according to a POLITICO analysis of Trump’s public statements and financial disclosures and interviews with tax experts.
“It’s kind of unprecedented that a president would be proposing tax and regulatory changes that have such a significant benefit to him and his family and presumably his business partners as well,” said Leslie Samuels, a tax attorney and former senior Clinton administration Treasury official. “It’s a combination of changes that have a potential for a material benefit of a large magnitude.”
The Republican tax code overhaul is expected to include across-the-board tax cuts, including one to the top business tax rate that would allow Trump’s companies to keep a greater share of their profits. Beyond the rate reduction, Trump could also benefit from several other provisions likely to be part of the GOP tax reform package, such as a proposed exemption on foreign income generated from overseas sales, from certain business interest deductions on debt-financed projects that are widely favored by real estate developers and from provisions allowing small business owners to tap into a lower 15 percent rate while filing through their individual returns.
And Trump’s family stands to significantly benefit — an estimated savings of $4 billion or more if the president-elect’s personal wealth is “in excess of $10 billion” as he has claimed — from a repeal of the estate tax, a tax on inheritance that applies to only a small number of the country’s wealthiest families.
Trump is promising his administration will deliver ethics safeguards to alleviate concerns about conflicts of interest between public policy and private profit, and his team says he could announce that plan as early as next week after he pushed back a promised announcement in December. His critics say an effective ethics safeguard requires him to divest entirely from his businesses and put his liquidated assets in a blind trust, but to date Trump has been hesitant to cut all ties with his business operations.
“The real challenge with Trump is he’s got so much at stake,” said Steven Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “It’s really a question of degree to a large measure.”
In delaying the December release, Trump promised his company would do “no new deals” while he is in office and that the business would be run by his two adult sons: Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump. But even if Trump is not actively involved in running his business, simply executing the big-ticket items he and his GOP colleagues have promised would bolster his bottom line.
That’s not illegal, as a key conflict of interest law from 1989 specifically exempts the president. It is, however, an awkward reality for the president to be making money off his own policies. And as Trump and GOP leaders set their agenda in motion, Democrats plan to highlight the ethical hazards as part of a broader strategy to paint the new president as looking out for himself and his wealthy associates at the expense of the middle-class workers he promised to champion.
“To say the least it’s a very rich field,” said Rep. Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat and senior member of the party’s leadership team. “I think there’s unfortunately too many opportunities to call into question the conflicts of interest that will be laid before the president-elect when he takes office.”
Trump’s potential conflicts of interest aren’t limited to tax reform. He stands to benefit from planned GOP changes to the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, namely looser banking standards that can facilitate faster lending for commercial real estate. Democrats say such…