Dozens of lobbyists and government contractors are paying for memberships at President Trump's private golf clubs, providing them with close access to the president and the Trump Organization with millions of dollars in revenue.
In an investigation, USA Today found that 50 executives whose companies hold federal contracts and 21 lobbyists belong to the three clubs Trump has visited most often since becoming president. Two-thirds of them played on one of the 58 days the president has been in attendance since the beginning of his administration. The clubs include Mar-a-Lago in Florida, Trump National Golf Club-Bedminster in New Jersey and Trump National Golf Club in Virginia.
The members — tracked down through social media and a golf-score tracking website because Trump clubs keep their membership information secret — include top executives of defense contractors, a lobbyist for the South Korean government, a lawyer helping Saudi Arabia fight claims over the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the leader of a pesticide trade group that convinced the Trump administration not to ban an insecticide linked to health problems.
"The review shows that, for the first time in U.S. history, wealthy people with interests before the government have a chance for close and confidential access to the president as a result of payments that enrich him personally," the paper reports. "It is a view of the president available to few other Americans."
The arrangement is legal, but ethics experts find it troubling that the president is accepting money from lobbyists who wish to influence his administration's decisions and policies. “I think we’re all in new territory,” says Walter Shaub, who recently resigned as director of the Office of Government Ethics after repeatedly clashing with the Trump administration. “We never thought we’d see anyone push the outer limits in this way.”
Members interviewed say they don't discuss business with the president at the clubs, but, “Face time is everything when it comes to Washington,” says Shaub. “The president bopping around his properties gives them access to him.”
The White House and the Trump Organization haven't commented on the revelations.
Trump’s U.S. golf clubs are a top revenue generator for his company, bringing in about $600 million in 2015 and 2016, according to his financial disclosure reports.
Before he took office, Trump told dinner guests at his Bedminster club that they were “the special people” and joked they “might want to come along” on job interviews for Cabinet secretaries. Infamously, in February, guests at Mar-a-Lago were able to take photos of the president at an open-air dinner table, talking with security aides and the Japanese prime minister after a North Korean missile launch.