Dozens of individuals hoping to influence the White House and federal government pay Donald Trump’s companies for memberships in his private golf clubs, allowing them the potential for close proximity to the President.
An investigation by USA Today found that member rolls for clubs that Mr Trump has visited frequently as president — in particular the ones in Virginia, Florida, and New Jersey — include at least 71 executives or lobbyists with federal contracts or interests. Of those, two-thirds of them have visited a club on a day the President was also there, according to scores posted online.
The investigation sheds light on a brand new realm of potential conflicts of interest, since membership in the clubs are kept secret by Trump companies. USA Today found the names of 4,500 Trump golf club members by reviewing social media and public website that golfers use to track their handicaps. The newspaper then reviewed the names to see if any had business in front of the US government.
The review shows the potential for unprecedented access to a sitting US president for people paying for a service that enriches that President personally. Few Americans can afford the members fees that these individuals pay, which in turn gets them the potential for close and confidential access to Mr Trump.
Interviews with members and individuals aware of the environment in the golf clubs while Mr Trump is around indicate that the President is very approachable, and frequently has impromptu conversations with individuals in the clubs.
Trump club members include top defence contractor executives, lobbyists representing the South Korean government, a lawyer helping Saudi Arabia in its fight against claims related to the September 11 attacks, and the leader of a group that lobbied successfully to convince the Trump administration not to ban an insecticide that scientists have linked to health risks.
Initiation fees for Trump clubs can top $100,000, and thousands of dollars in annual dues are paid in addition to that. The arrangement is legal, and members contacted by USA Today said that they did not use their memberships for special access to the President.
But, ethics experts are concerned with the situation.
“I think we’re all in new territory,” Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, said. “We never thought we’d see anyone push the outer limits in this way.”
Mr Shaub recently resigned from his post after repeated conflict with the White House.