Essex column: Heck, yes, let’s monetize the government
Those concerned about Donald Trump’s potential conflicts of interests and cashing in on the presidency if he doesn’t put his businesses in a blind trust are thinking too narrowly.
Apparently — and who knew? — Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution bars federal office holders from accepting “any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”
Think Progress, one of those alarmist lefty websites, posted a piece Friday noting that ethics lawyers for Barack (Hussein) Obama and George (W.) Bush, along with (elitist) Harvard constitutional law expert Lawrence Tribe believe Trump will be in violation of the clause as soon as he takes the oath of office unless he divests his interests.
Think Progress’ editor, crazed with desperation to stop the inevitability of a Trump presidency, dug up an obscure comment in a 1788 constitutional debate to buttress the argument.
“There is another provision against the danger … of the president receiving emoluments from foreign powers. If discovered he may be impeached,” said then-Virginia Gov. Edmund Jennings Randolph. “By the ninth section, of the first article, ‘No person holding an office of profit or trust, shall accept of any present or emolument whatever, from any foreign power, without the consent of the representatives of the people’ … I consider, therefore, that he is restrained from receiving any present or emoluments whatever. It is impossible to guard better against corruption.”
Silly Founders, not foreseeing the potential benefit of a multinational business entangled with U.S. foreign policy.
Here’s a potential example, the New York Times whined on Sunday, of how Trump’s business empire could run afoul of the provision:
The clause creates “a standard that some legal experts say he may violate by renting space in Trump Tower in New York to the Bank of China or if he hosts foreign diplomats in one of his hotels.”
Trump agrees that being president enhances his business and brand. (Duh. How do we think the Clintons got rich, after all?)
“I mean it could be that occupancy at that hotel will be because, psychologically, occupancy at that hotel will be probably a more valuable asset now than it was before, OK?” Trump told the Times. “The brand is certainly a hotter brand than it was before. I can’t help that, but I don’t care.”
Exactly. Emoluments shemoluments. The president already is exempt from most conflict of interest laws, so let’s not let some purist 18th century notion muck things up. Rather than getting our underwear all bunched up over technicalities, let’s be real capitalists and monetize the government.
For example, one potential cure for Trump’s supposed conflicts, Bush’s former lawyer Richard Painter said, would be for him to agree to have his businesses audited and turn over payments from a foreign government to the United States.
Earmark it for deficit reduction, but don’t stop there. We’ve got infrastructure to pay for.
Let’s take a cue from the private sector and look at some naming rights.
The Vladimir Putin Washington Monument. George, you were a great guy, but, let’s be honest, like Gov. Randolph, you haven’t done much for us lately. Your monument is sorta phallic and might attract the Russian dictator’s interest.
The BP Yellowstone National Park.
The Wells Fargo Treasury Building.
We can keep “Obamacare” in name if not in provisions, but to preserve your “legacy,” Barack, you’re going to have to be giving some speeches to pay for that. Hillary Clinton, we’ll skip the new investigation, but we want a cut of those foundation deals. Perhaps you could get naming rights to the State Department.
And while heavy manufacturing jobs may not really be coming back to Youngstown and Allentown, the country has serious infrastructure needs, so let’s sell naming rights to new roads, bridges and sewer systems. OK, that last one may have limited possibilities, but if it works for ballparks, it can work for highways.
Vail Resorts Interstate 70 Mountain Corridor.
Set up correctly, it can create cash flow with renewals up every five years.
It’s a patriotic voluntary payment for which companies get good PR.
The possibilities are nearly endless. Hate ISIS? Sponsor a drone, maybe even name one for a friend the way you can pay to name stars. The Pentagon certainly spends a pretty penny on uniforms — let’s hit up Nike.
While this might seem unsavory to some — you know, probably socialist Bernie Sanders won’t like it — it actually can add transparency to government. Companies and industries already spend untold millions working loopholes into tax and other laws to their benefit.
Under this system, we would bring it out in the open, and the interest groups could just name a law. The Goldman Sachs Investment Secrecy Law, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Wage and Hour Reform Act of 2018.
It’s a whole new system in which capitalism truly becomes our form of government. Much more efficient than democracy. Maybe Donald Trump can’t be bought, but everything else has a clear, transparent price.
Local governments could follow suit.
What can we get for the Grand Avenue bridge?
Randy Essex is publisher and editor of the Post Independent.
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