Trump’s fi­nan­cial fac­tor

The pres­i­den­tial can­di­date’s busi­ness ties may present too many con­flicts of in­ter­est

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Alexan­der R.M. Boyle Alexan­der R.M. Boyle is the re­tired vice-chair­man of the board of the Chevy Chase Bank, a po­si­tion in which he served for over 30 years. His email is arm­boyle@aol.com.

Many times dur­ing the cur­rent pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, charges have been flung back and forth by the ma­jor nom­i­nees that the other can­di­date is “disqual­i­fied.” In most cases, this means that one can­di­date sim­ply doesn’t like the other’s views or per­son­al­ity. But a re­port last month de­tail­ing the com­plex­i­ties of real es­tate mogul Don­ald Trump var­i­ous prop­erty hold­ings across the U.S. and abroad in­deed, to­tally dis­qual­i­fies him from ever be­ing pres­i­dent of the United States.

No can­di­date from a ma­jor party has ever had fi­nan­cial deal­ings of such ex­ten­sive com­plex­ity. Fur­ther­more, we have no way of know­ing the com­plete­ness or ac­cu­racy of his fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sures. None of the re­leased in­for­ma­tion has been sub­jected to au­dit by an in­de­pen­dent, pro­fes­sional ac­count­ing firm. The United States Of­fice of Gov­ern­ment Ethics is re­spon­si­ble for re­view­ing Mr. Trump’s fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure forms as filed with the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, but the agency’s pro­ce­dures do not in­clude any form of au­dit or ver­i­fi­ca­tion and specif­i­cally state that dis­clo­sures are to be taken at “face value.” A com­monly ac­cepted way of be­gin­ning to un­der­stand an in­di­vid­ual’s fi­nan­cial af­fairs is to re­view his per­sonal tax re­turn, but as we have heard many times over, Mr. Trump has stead­fastly re­fused to re­lease his IRS Form 1040, the first pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in over 50 years to do so.

As pres­i­dent, Mr. Trump would have the au­thor­ity to make a vast range of de­ci­sions that would di­rectly im­pact his sub­stan­tial net worth. Tax, reg­u­la­tory, mon­e­tary, and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, among oth­ers, would raise ob­vi­ous con­flict-of-in­ter­est is­sues that would have to be ad­dressed be­fore Mr. Trump could as­sume the du­ties of pres­i­dent. For ex­am­ple, Mr. Trump has cam­paigned on a prom­ise to im­ple­ment mas­sive cuts in per­sonal and cor­po­rate taxes, which most econ­o­mists agree would re­sult in much larger bud­get deficits and there­fore higher in­ter­est rates in or­der to avoid in­fla­tion­ary pres­sures; this is cer­tainly the record of what hap­pened fol­low­ing the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. Would Mr. Trump be will­ing to place his real es­tate em­pire in jeop­ardy be­cause of higher in­ter­est rates in or­der to live up to a cam­paign prom­ise? How should we view his prom­ise to elim­i­nate the es­tate tax, a change of enor­mous ben­e­fit to the wealthy, in­clud­ing him­self? The man’s demon­strated pro­cliv­ity to fo­cus solely on him­self when pre­sented with an is­sue leaves lit­tle doubt as to which course he would pur­sue.

The mea­sures that would nor­mally be fol­lowed as a means of in­su­lat­ing a can­di­date from con­flicts of in­ter­est are not avail­able to solve Mr. Trump’s unique sit­u­a­tion. A clear ex­am­ple can be seen in the steps Henry Paul­son took when he left his po­si­tion as CEO of Goldman Sachs to be­come Trea­sury Sec­re­tary in the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. Mr. Paul­son’s hold­ings in Goldman, a pub­lic en­tity, were sold and the pro­ceeds placed in a “blind trust,” where the funds were rein­vested to­tally un­der the con­trol of an in­de­pen­dent trustee. But it would be im­pos­si­ble to follow the same steps with Mr. Trump’s com­plex maze of pri­vate en­ti­ties, mainly be­cause they would take years to liq­ui­date, as­sum­ing they could be sold at all. He could be con­fi­dent that the same as­sets would be there when his term as pres­i­dent was fin­ished and po­ten­tially in­creased in value sub­stan­tially by pol­icy de­ci­sions that he made while in of­fice.

Mr. Trump him­self has in­di­cated that his chil­dren would most likely as­sume re­spon­si­bil­ity for run­ning his com­pany, but this sug­ges­tion can­not be taken se­ri­ously as a way of in­su­lat­ing him from con­flicts of in­ter­est. In­deed, it would only make the sit­u­a­tion worse. One won­ders if Mr. Trump has ac­tu­ally con­sid­ered any of these is­sues as his quixotic can­di­dacy has moved through the nom­i­na­tion and now the gen­eral elec­tion process. Many have won­dered how se­ri­ous he has been about his chances in that process from the be­gin­ning. But we are now in to­tally un­char­tered wa­ters.

Given that the of­fice of pres­i­dent of the United States must be held to the ab­so­lute high­est of moral and eth­i­cal stan­dards, pro­fes­sion­al­ism, and avoid­ance of con­flicts of in­ter­est, and given the fact that there is no way of in­su­lat­ing Mr. Trump from such con­flicts, there is only one ra­tional con­clu­sion: Don­ald Trump is cat­e­gor­i­cally disqual­i­fied from serv­ing as pres­i­dent.

LYNNE SLADKY/AP

Pro­test­ers march down a Miami street hold­ing a sign urg­ing Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump to re­lease his tax re­turns, which he has thus far re­fused to do.

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