What is the emoluments clause?

The emoluments clause became a trending topic over the past week. White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney announced Thursday that next year's Group of Seven economic meeting, commonly referred to as the G-7, would be held at Trump National Doral resort in Miami. After receiving bipartisan criticism, President Donald Trump reversed his decision and announced on Twitter over the weekend that the search for a G-7 site would continue.

Critics claim Trump's original plan to hold the meeting of world leaders at a property he owns would be a violation of the Constitution’s “emoluments clause.”

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Here is a look at what emoluments means and how it applies to Trump’s administration.

What is the emoluments clause in the U.S. Constitution?

First, a definition. An emolument is payment for work done or “gain (of things other than payment) from employment or position.”

The emoluments clause in the Constitution is also known as the “Title of Nobility Clause” or the foreign emoluments clause. It can be found in Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 8. The Constitution generally prohibits federal officeholders from receiving any gift, payment, or other things of value from a foreign state or its rulers, officers, or representatives.

What does the clause actually say?

The Title of Nobility Clause addresses foreign emoluments, or money paid by a foreign government.

The section reads: "No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state." 
Is this the only place in the Constitution that mentions emoluments?

No. There is also a “domestic emoluments clause” that is found in Article II, Section 1, Paragraph 7. That clause prohibits the president from receiving any “emolument,” or payment, from the federal government or from any state that is beyond compensation for his services as chief executive.

What does that clause actually say?

The Domestic Emoluments Clause reads “The President shall at stated times, receive for his services a compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the period for which he shall have been elected and he shall not receive within that period any other emolument from the United States, or any of them.”

Did Trump violate the emoluments clause?

That’s open for interpretation. Trump does not run the day-to-day business of his companies, but those companies have been doing business with foreign interests.

For instance, foreign government representatives have stayed in the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and on Thursday, Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s chief of staff, announced that Trump had selected the Trump National Doral golf resort in Miami to host the Group of Seven Summit next June.

Lawsuits have been filed against Trump claiming that stays at his hotel or resort property by representatives of foreign governments along with trademarks that Trump companies have been granted by China are violations of the emoluments clause.

Does that mean he violated the clause?

According to Trump’s attorneys, representatives of foreign governments are allowed to stay at the hotels and resorts without a violation of the emoluments clause if they pay the market rate to stay there.

His attorneys said the clause applies only to payments received for government action taken by a president in his official capacity. In addition, his attorneys said, Trump pledged to donate “all profits” from foreign government patronage of his hotels to the U.S. Treasury. According to The Washington Post, the Trump Organization turned over $151,470 in 2018 and $191,538 in 2019 to the U.S. Treasury. The Post reported that the Trump Organization said that money represented profits from foreign governments in the prior year.

Has anyone else sued him for violating the clause?

Trump has several suits against him concerning the emoluments clause. They are:

  • A lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia. The suit claimed Trump is violating the emoluments clause by holding a financial interest in the Washington hotel. A federal appeals court panel dismissed the suit, but it will likely be reconsidered by the full court.
  • A second suit brought by a hotel event booker, a restaurant association and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington was reinstated by an appeals court after two separate decisions on claims of unfair competition were handed down in different courts.
  • A third suit includes 215 Democratic members of Congress. That suit claims that Trump has accepted the money for events at hotels and resorts without the consent of Congress. The Constitution requires the president to obtain "the consent of Congress" before accepting an emolument.

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