The Mainstream Media, or rather the outed propaganda arm of the establishment, is trying to vilify Donald Trump as participating in a conflict of interest by keeping control over some or all of his business ventures while preparing to take over the highest office in government. Yet a simple look at our former Presidents shows that many of them not only kept a modicum of control over their businesses and properties while fulfilling their duties as the Commander-in-Chief, but in some cases, such as at the beginning of our nation’s founding, their participating in commerce was vital in the growing the nation’s economy since they held a major stake in the foundation of America’s economic future.
When he was elected president in 1789, George Washington was one of the nation’s largest landowners. Most of his holdings were on the wrong (western) side of the Appalachian Mountains, though, and thus of dubious financial value.
Delegates to that convention agreed that executive officers of the new national government they were creating could not accept “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State” without congressional consent, and could be thrown out of office by Congress for taking bribes from anyone. But they didn’t make any rules constricting officials’ investments and business interests.
If they had, much of the nation’s nascent commercial activity might have ground to a halt. The U.S. was short on both potential government officials and potential investors, so combining the two activities was common. The New York economy, for example, was dominated by what historian Brian Murphy calls “political entrepreneurs” — Aaron Burr, DeWitt and George Clinton, Robert Fulton, Alexander Hamilton, Robert Livingston. This is from Murphy’s “Building the Empire State: Political Economy in the Early Republic”: – Bloomberg
Thomas Jefferson: Ran a plantation and owned slaves while being President
“Washington, Jefferson, most of our early presidents were from Virginia and they had large plantations, and they were making lots of money off of slave labor,” said Painter (former chief ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush)
Interestingly, it was only in the 1960’s that U.S. Presidents began a precedent to put their businesses and assets into a ‘blind trust’. However, there is no law or Constitutional restriction regarding conflicts of interest for the President since it was implied that the Commander-in-Chief, along with those who would become members of the legislative branch, would use their government offices as a secondary vocation and spend most of their time back in their home states also running their businesses or farmsteads.
The president and vice president are free from following conflict of interest rules that apply to almost all government employees. That’s the way the founding fathers wanted it.
“You never wanted to have the risk that a Chief Executive of the U.S. would have a conflict and not be able to decide something of pressing national or international urgency,” said Norman Eisen, a former ethics czar in the Obama White House, and a current fellow at the Brookings Institution. – WNYC
Besides the President during the early part of our nation’s founding, most of Congress ran their own affairs since the office was never meant to be a full time job. In fact, one of the biggest reasons that the 17th Amendment (Direct election of Senators) was proposed and passed was because state legislatures often failed to appoint individuals to serve in the National government and it made it more difficult to achieve quorums for passing legislation.
Steven Horsford of Nevada, a four-term Democratic state senator who also runs a culinary training academy in Las Vegas, believes that with a citizen-legislature, people of all backgrounds have an opportunity to serve their state.
“Unlike certain places that have full-time legislatures,” Horsford says, “in Nevada we have people in our legislature who are teachers, who run nonprofits, who are small-business people, are ranchers, all of whom give a diverse perspective on setting public policy for the state.”
In the days of earliest America, Roger Sherman of Connecticut — a signer of the Declaration of Independence — understood the positive aspects of a part-time national legislature. At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he opined that “Representatives ought to return home and mix with the people. By remaining at the seat of government, they would acquire the habits of the place, which might differ from those of their constituents.”
When Members Didn’t Stick Around So Much
From 1789 to 1815, members of Congress couldn’t afford to stay year-round in Washington because they were paid so poorly. Senators and representatives made just a few dollars a day. In 1815, they began receiving $1,500 a year salary. In 1855 that doubled. By 1935, they were making $10,000 a year. But most members of Congress still needed day jobs.
Even into the 1960s, members of Congress “were out of session about as much as they were in, and they had almost no personal and committee staffers assigned to them unless they were senior and powerful,” says Larry Sabato, an American history professor at the University of Virginia and director of the university’s Center for Politics. It wasn’t until the 1970s that members of Congress began seeing their positions as year-round commitments. – NPR
It has only been because of tradition and the growth of cronyism that has led the government to become a full-time industry, by which many members of Congress use their offices to gain wealth rather than to return home and achieve it through a job or actually running a business. And as there are no real laws restricting a President from holding the highest office and also running his businesses, the entire argument is simply academic.
Kenneth Schortgen Jr is a writer for The Daily Economist, Secretsofthefed.com, Roguemoney.net, and Viral Liberty, and hosts the popular youtube podcast on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Ken can also be heard Wednesday afternoons giving an weekly economic report on the Angel Clark radio show.