Ticket prices are up for this year’s glitzy New Year’s Eve bash, but concerns remain over the fusion of Trump’s public responsibilities and private interests
Donald Trump is throwing a lavish party tonight, as he does every New Year, at Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, Florida.
But this year, with the host also serving as US president, he faces questions over the conflation of his business interests and his official responsibilities.
At $600 for dues-paying members and $750 for their guests, ticket prices are up from last year, when, as president-elect, Trump charged $525 for members and $575 for guests.
Last year’s party was a capacity sell-out, and included a red carpet arrival, a cocktail hour followed by dinner – last year, ‘Mr Trump’s wedge salad’, wild mushroom & Swiss chard ravioli, sliced tenderloin and pan-seared sea bass, followed by baked Alaska.
Dancing to a covers band until 1am in the Donald J Trump grand ballroom rounded the evening off.
At that event, Trump made a speech to the crowd. He told them: “All I can tell you is, we are going to do a good job.”
Richard Painter, the former top ethics lawyer in the George W Bush administration, believes that the party – as with Trump’s continued use of the club – offers presidential access to anyone that can afford its $200,000 initiation fee.
“Trump continues to combine his personal business with his official work,” says Painter. The real problem, he says, is that Trump is at his so-called ‘Winter White House’ so often that he is effectively conducting official business while promoting his own property.
“He can easily be contacted by members of Mar-a-Lago, so people who pay him or pay his company money are getting preferential access. If you go to the bar, you run into prominent government officials. So it’s lobbying, but it’s not lobbying that’s going to be disclosed under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.”
Over Thanksgiving, club staff placed a red velvet rope around the table where Trump and his immediate family sit for dinner. Officials told CNN the measures were enacted for security reasons but also to restrict access to visitors looking to give advice or seek favors.
The changes may be no more than cosmetic, and Trump is there with people who have paid for membership to a club and the access that goes with it, says Painter.
“It looks like pay-to-play, but the supreme court has interpreted our bribery statutes so narrowly that paying for access to a government official is not considered criminal bribery. So none of this is covered by criminal bribery statutes but it still looks absolutely terrible.”
Then there is the issue of Trump Organization branding. The Palm Beach Post has reported that the Trump corporate helicopter has been sitting on the Mar-a-Lago helipad – a helipad that was built, and only supposed to be used for, presidential business.
The chopper is reportedly owned by DT Connect II and DT Connect II Member Corp, a company whose executives include the president’s sons, Eric and Donald Jr.
“It is one thing to bring in Marine One with the president on it. It is another thing to bring in helicopters with the president not on it, or private helicopters,” Jesse Diner, attorney for Palm Beach resident Nancy deMoss, complained at a February Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting, according to the paper.
The issue of landing rights has been a bone of contention for Palm Beach residents, who have expressed anger that when Trump is in residence at Mar-a-Lago they are restricted from flying their jets into the local airport.
But as Florida’s snowbirds prepare the for tonight’s Trump bash, some details have begun to leak out.
In the past, decorators have pushed the party decor toward Las Vegas showgirls, the movie Moulin Rouge, and a ’70s disco theme. This year, party organizer Steve Levine told the Washington Post that this year’s theme would be a less risque “modern fantasy garden,” with floral patterns and “metallic gold, silver and shades thereof”.
“There’s a more modern vibe than in the past,” Levine said.
This year’s event, the paper also reported, is expected to be bigger than last year’s, with a VIP area being built on top of the stage where, presumably Trump, will preside.
The Trump administration has allowed only limited access to the records showing who has visited Mar-a-Lago.
“The problem of the president and his staff only hanging around with extremely rich people who can afford to join Mar-a-Lago is one thing,” says Painter,” but we ought to at least be able to see who is coming and going given the amount of official business that’s being conducted down there at the club.”