DORAL, Fla. ― The president’s Miami golf resort that puts money into his pocket more than doubled its room rates just before the White House announced his Thursday visit ― possibly increasing taxpayer costs for staff who must travel there in advance.
Donald Trump’s plan to address the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting at Trump National Doral next to the Miami airport has been in the works since mid-January, about the same time that the resort raised the nightly rate for its least expensive rooms from $254 to $539.
That higher figure is just under the maximum per-night rate federal government rules permit for a hotel in South Florida, and is triple the normal “per diem” rate employees are supposed to follow.
The White House would not reveal how much Trump’s Secret Service agents or other members of his “advance” team are paying for the days prior to his visit. Trump is only scheduled to be at the property for a few hours, but at least two dozen staff typically need to get there a few days ahead of time to prepare for his arrival.
Doral officials refused to discuss how much they are charging for U.S. government employees staying there for Trump’s visit. The Trump Organization, the president’s family business that owns and operates the resort, also did not respond to queries from HuffPost.
A Secret Service spokesperson declined to give details about the visit: “For operational security reasons, the Secret Service does not discuss our protectees or our protective means and methods. This includes personnel numbers associated with a particular protective visit.”
Robert Weissman, president of the liberal watchdog group Public Citizen, said the episode illustrates Trump’s continued use of his office to enrich himself. “What better way to defend yourself in an impeachment trial over abuse of power than to jet to your private golf resort on the public dime, secure lots of publicity for the club on the public dime, and then, possibly, rip off taxpayers by forcing them to pay extra for the staff whose costs at the resort are billed to ‘we the people,’” Weissman said.
Room Rates Spiked With Trump’s Visit
If, in fact, two or three dozen government employees have spent several days there, that would have put tens of thousands of public dollars into Trump’s cash registers, between the room rates and the higher-than-average cost for food at the on-site restaurants. That is on top of the $500,000 or so that the RNC is likely to wind up paying for staff hotel rooms, meeting rooms and catering for its three-day gathering, as well as the $1,000 or more each of the 168 individual RNC members is paying out of pocket to attend.
RNC officials declined to reveal how much, exactly, the meeting is costing its donors. However, records filed with the Federal Election Commission show the RNC already paid Doral $169,763 on Nov. 6, likely as a deposit for the meeting. The party previously spent $602,765 at Doral for its 2018 spring meeting, and $84,822 for a lunch fundraiser it held there in June 2019.
The timing of that November payment means the RNC settled on holding its winter meeting at Doral just 18 days after Trump backed down from his plan to award a multimillion-dollar government contract to the resort to host the Group of Seven conference there this June.
Trump had claimed he would not make any money from the contract, but never made clear how that was possible. He is the sole beneficiary of the trust that owns Trump Organization, and Trump Organization owns his hotels and golf resorts, including Doral.
Because Trump insists on playing golf at his own properties, American taxpayers have been the source for at least a few million dollars that have gone to the Trump Organization in the form of rooms, meals and other expenses for Secret Service agents and other government employees who have stayed on-site with Trump at his golf courses in Florida, New Jersey, Scotland and Ireland. The exact amount is not known because the White House refuses to release those records.
Trump was not originally planning to attend this week’s RNC meeting. He started considering doing so early last week, which was when the hotel also raised its room rates for the nights of and just prior to his visit.
For the latter half of December and the first days of January, Doral’s website advertised rates as low as $254 per night for nonrefundable rooms for the days of the RNC meeting, and a $299 rate that allowed cancellation until five days before the first night of the booking, according to HuffPost’s tracking of the room rates.
Those numbers suddenly jumped to $459 a night on Jan. 13, soon after the White House first began planning for a potential Trump trip to the meeting. The next day it jumped to $539 a night, before falling to $499 per room on Jan. 15, but with rooms only available for the final night of the RNC meeting, and the first two nights sold out.
Rooms for RNC members, in contrast, were available in a block for $289 per night.
Yet even that rate appears to be substantially more than what the market will bear. On Monday, for example, the hotel website was showing rooms available for that night at just $209. On Tuesday, the least expensive room available was $224 a night.
Making Money Off The Presidency
The jump in room rates at Doral continues a pattern of Trump properties hiking rates to take advantage of campaign and election-related events hosted by Republicans.
In 2016, Trump nearly quintupled the rent he charged his campaign for space in Trump Tower after he secured the GOP nomination and had access to the RNC’s donors, from $35,458 a month to $169,758, even though the number of employees remained the same.
In 2017, according to documents obtained by the group Property of the People under the Freedom of Information Act, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach refused to lower its room charges below the legal maximum $546 a night for administration officials staying there, despite State Department requests to bring them into line with the government per diem of $182. The White House ultimately also approved a $1,005.60 bar tab after the State Department would not do so.
And in November, according to the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel a few blocks from the White House raised its rates threefold ― to more than $1,300 a night for its cheapest rooms ― for nights coinciding with a fundraising retreat for Senate Republicans. That hotel has similarly raised its cheapest rates to $1,600 for this November’s election night.
“Not only is the president personally profiting from his office by the increased political patronage of his business, the business raises rates when he does so he’ll profit even more,” said CREW’s Jordan Libowitz. “What we’re seeing is a blending of Trump’s political career and his business, which is certainly not something you want to see from the president of the United States.”
It is also questionable whether Republicans and other supporters are getting their money’s worth at Doral when they have so many other South Florida options to choose from. Trump likes to boast that his resort is first-rate, but it has suffered financially since Trump became president while also suffering in contrast to other resorts in the area.
While the city of Doral is in Miami-Dade County, it is removed from the attractions most people have in mind when they think of Miami. The golf resort boasts plenty of ornate chandeliers and baroque fountains — but lies directly beneath the flight path of Miami International Airport’s takeoffs and landings, and is miles from the closest beach.
During the RNC’s meeting there in 2018, the troubled 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 tinged with the fraternity house odor of spilled alcohol.
Nearly two years later, at this current RNC meeting, the mustiness appears to remain, at least in some areas. The downstairs restaurant, however, seems to have eliminated the stale beer odor.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.