Border Patrol Foundation moved its 2018 fundraiser to Trump’s hotel

Moving the dinner to the Trump International raises serious concerns, according to one ethics expert.
Moving the dinner to the Trump International raises serious concerns, according to one ethics expert.
Image: US Customs and Border Protection on Flickr
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The Border Patrol Foundation is a nonprofit that honors US Border Patrol agents who have been killed in the line of duty, and provides support and resources to their families. Every year they have a dinner in Washington, DC to raise funds. And for years it was held at the JW Marriott. In 2018, however, it was relocated to the Trump International Hotel.

The change in venue raised some eyebrows. And now the Foundation says it will be moving its fundraiser back to the JW Marriott for 2019.

Booking the Trump International in DC has become more popular for foreign dignitaries and other institutions since president Donald Trump was elected in 2016. In fact, there is an entire newsletter devoted to questionable comings and goings at the hotel. No one admits that booking events there is an effort to ingratiate themselves with the president, but the look is at best unseemly.

The flier for the dinner on the Border Patrol Foundation’s website.
The flier for the dinner on the Border Patrol Foundation’s website.
Image: borderpatrolfoundation.org

All previous US presidents have either put their assets in a blind trust upon taking office or divested any investments or business ties to avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest. But like so many other things, Trump has bucked this tradition too. He has only agreed to remove himself from the daily running of the Trump Organization, which is now overseen by his sons.

“President Trump is brazenly profiting from the Office of the President in ways that no other President in history ever imagined and that the founders expressly sought—in the Constitution—to prohibit,” the attorneys general for DC and Maryland said in a statement last week after a federal appeals court dismissed a lawsuit accusing Trump of violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause by accepting money from foreign governments through his hotel.

For years, the Kuwaiti embassy in Washington, DC, for example, held its National Day celebration at the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown. Since Trump has been president, the annual event has been held at the Trump International. The cost of renting the space is estimated to be about $60,000.

The ambassador, Salem al-Salah, flatly denied the move to the president’s hotel was an attempt to cozy up to Trump.

“I do not know President-elect Trump,” Sabah told the Washington Post at the time. “Or his people. No one has contacted me about moving the event…There is a new hotel in town, and we thought we would give it a try.”

The governments of the Philippines, Bahrain, and Malaysia have all also held events at the Trump  International, and a lobbyist working for the government of Saudi Arabia rented more than 500 rooms at the property just after Trump was elected. An eyebrow-raising Hanukkah party co-hosted by the government of Azerbaijan took place in the Trump International’s Lincoln Library. Guests included Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador who left the US under a cloud of suspicion for his alleged role in helping swing the 2016 presidential election for Trump.

The Border Patrol Foundation, which is a 501(c)3 nonprofit started by former Border Patrol agents, says the decision to move the venue was purely practical. “Each year, the BPF entertains competitive bids for the event, and considerations include how well they can accommodate the growing size of our guest list, availability, location and cost,” Border Patrol Foundation executive director Shannon Staples wrote in an email to Quartz. “There are no other factors involved in our selection of a venue.”

The foundation held its annual dinner at the JW Marriott in 2015, 2016, and 2017. (In 2013, it was held at the Mayflower Hotel, also in Washington.) Moving the dinner in 2018 to the Trump International raised serious concerns, said Craig Holman, an ethics and lobbying expert at DC watchdog group Public Citizen.

“The primary purpose of holding its annual dinner on Trump properties is to curry favor with the Trump administration, and Trump in particular, by funneling money into Trump’s personal coffers,” Holman told Quartz. “This is an influence-peddling strategy that has become increasingly popular with lobbyists and foreign agents.”

The 2018 dinner featured “patriotic entertainer” Dave Bray, and was hosted by former Fox News contributor Bill McCuddy. McCuddy’s speaking fee is $10,000, according to his profile.

The IBM corporation was among the companies who attended the dinner, where the cost for a full table appeared to be $15,000.

It is unknown what the Border Patrol Foundation paid to hold its 2018 event at the Trump International. In 2017, it spent $68,000 on expenses related to the Border Patrol Recognition Dinner, which was held at the JW Marriott, according to publicly available tax filings. If room rates at the Trump International are any guide to price shifts in the hotel’s event spaces, the property charged an average of $660.28 per night during the first four months of Trump’s term, far more than the $416 it had projected for the period and about $160 higher than comparable hotels in the area.