PHOTO: Trump's affection for Mar-a-Lago is causing problems. (photo via Flickr/sergio_leenen)
Donald Trump’s predilection for hosting dignitaries and staff outside of the White House has some ethics groups asking questions.
NBC News examines something that has been an early trend in the budding Trump administration, travel to his Florida oasis Mar-a-Lago. The president has spent now 13 weekends away from the White House, representing a whopping 28 percent of the time he has been in transit or is actually in Palm Beach.
Every time a president steps off the White House grounds, travel prices skyrocket into the millions thanks to costs such as operating Air Force One as well as securing and feeding the commander-in-chief and his staff and guests.
Obviously, Trump isn’t bound to governmentally held buildings, but the major question that gets asked in the report is whether it’s ethical for Trump’s holdings to not only get a fiscal boost but an increase in brand awareness as well.
NBC News spoke with George Washington Law School professor Steve Schooner who explained: “It's just another example of his consistent efforts to exploit public office for private gain. He's using his official office and the fact that people have to travel with him, meet him, and follow him to promote his commercial enterprise, in this case, his privately owned club. I can't think of anything like this that we've seen at any time in the modern era.”
READ MORE: Trump Policies Have Travel Industry Slashing Prices
The meetings Schooner may be referring to are the trips to Mar-a-Lago that featured Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a more recent affair that welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The former meeting made headlines for seeming far too transparent for a conversation between world leaders. As The Washington Post reminds at the time, images from that very meeting went viral. That news has been tremendous for Mar-A-Lago, which has since doubled its fees to $200,000, according to NBC News.
Schooner goes on to explain why all of this matters: “This is a privately owned club that for all intents and purposes was just another golf property in Florida before, that almost now is something that Americans immediately recognize. Imagine what you would have to pay to get that kind of brand recognition. That's extraordinary.”
And things are expensive without having Trump head south nearly every weekend.
Melania Trump’s decision to stay in New York’s Trump Tower has reportedly cost between $127,000 and $146,000 per day. Then, back in February, CBS News reported on the Trump kids and their respective business travel to places such as Uruguay, the Dominican Republic and Dubai.
As noted, secret service detail on the first couple is mandatory, but children are optional. The cost of which is also not something that needs to be divulged.
The CBS News report quotes Washington University Law Ethics Professor Kathleen Clark: “The bottom line on how much it’s costing the taxpayers is absolutely something I think the public and Congress has the right to know.”
Especially when travel continues to affect taxpayers in a more tangible manner.
TravelPulse’s Rich Thomaselli reports on Palm Beach area Lantana Airport, which has to shut down whenever the president is in town. The financial repercussions for this tiny airport have been, well, huge.
However, it’s difficult to hammer down exactly how much Trump’s own travel will cost.
A recent Washington Post report, however, hints at a tremendous cost by the time this term runs its course: “Barely a month into the Trump presidency, the unusually elaborate lifestyle of America’s new first family is straining the Secret Service and security officials, stirring financial and logistical concerns in several local communities, and costing far beyond what has been typical for past presidents—a price tag that, based on past assessments of presidential travel and security costs, could balloon into the hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of a four-year term.”
While ethics experts have called the trend into question, it doesn’t seem like Trump and his administration are about to change anytime soon. Trump has stated that he will travel far less Internationally, which means we can expect with a great deal of confidence that dignitaries will continue to be hosted rather than Trump being the guest.
The White House doesn’t seem the least bit fazed about the growing controversy. NBC News quotes a White House official who explains that while Trump travels south, he “is staying at his home, the Southern White House, and has minimal staff with him.”
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer echoes the sentiment and states Mar-a-Lago, “is where [Trump] goes to see his family. He brings people down there. This is part of being president.”
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, who heads what is described as a conservative watchdog group, initially questions the president’s choice of such expensive destinations. Then, he finds room to embrace Trump’s travel habits: “It's the president's home. It's probably a nice way to visit with leaders and get to know them and to do some important business with them. So it's not the end of the world that he hosts the president of China, or anyone else, down there.”
Much like so many aspects of this administration’s ridiculously short tenure, costs will trickle down and Trump will push forward, not the least bit daunted by the questions he leaves in his wake.