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President Trump Used Public Office to Advertise Campaign Merchandise

Published: January 11, 2018

Hurricane Harvey Response

 

On August 25, 2017, what would go on to be declared the biggest rainstorm in the history of the continental United States approached southeast Texas as Hurricane Harvey made its way northwest through the Gulf of Mexico.

 

The storm would eventually leave Houston, America’s fourth largest city, and the surrounding areas inundated with flood waters, cause dozens of deaths, result in billions of dollars of property damage, and dislocate tens of thousands of people from their homes.

 

Apparently for Pres. Trump, the publicity afforded to him by this crisis was an opportune time to advertise his campaign merchandise.

Over three of the next four days, Pres. Trump would conduct official government business sporting an “official USA 45th Presidential hat” which is available for sale on his campaign website for $40.

On August 26, 2017, Pres. Trump wore a white version of the hat while conducting a teleconference about Harvey with members of his cabinet.

Pres. Trump conducts a teleconference about Harvey. Official White House Photo, Shealah Craighead

On August 27, Pres. Trump wore a red version of the hat while conducting another teleconference about Harvey with members of his cabinet.

Pres. Trump conducts a second teleconference about Harvey. Official White House Photo, Shealah Craighead

And on August 29, 2017, Pres. Trump arrived in hurricane ravaged Texas wearing the “45/USA” hat and continued to do so throughout his appearances in Texas. 

This marked the third time in four days that Trump had worn campaign merchandise as a sitting President while addressing Hurricane Harvey.

Hurricane Irma Response

 

On September 14, President Trump arrived in Florida to survey the damage wrought by Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest storms ever recorded.

 

And, once again, he apparently viewed the crisis as an opportune time to use public office to advertise the white “45/USA” hat being sold on his campaign website.

This marked the second time Pres. Trump used the extensive press coverage that accompanies a President in the wake of a national disaster to promote campaign merchandise.

 

So when the media showed Pres. Trump giving out sandwiches to victims, it served as free advertising for Trump’s campaign merchandise. And when he spoke to the media about the government’s response to Irma, it provided free advertising for Trump’s campaign merchandise. And when he visited a mobile-home park to survey the damage, the intensive media coverage contributed financially to Pres. Trump’s re-election efforts.

Assessment

 

Pres. Trump used the publicity that comes with holding public office during a crisis for free advertising of campaign merchandise on two separate occasions.

 

No such free advertising for merchandise will be afforded to any other candidate seeking to run in the 2020 presidential election.

 

This may provide the incumbent president with an edge in campaigning for the 2020 election which will not be available to challengers.

 

While this is not strictly illegal, it is certainly unethical, a departure from democratic norms, and a misuse of public office for private gain.

 

It therefore constitutes political corruption.

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