U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz Getty/Alex Wong
This article originally appeared [here on Salon.com]
The campaign to re-elect Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a reliable ally of President Donald Trump, appears to have received a deep discount on lodging at Trump International Hotel in Washington during the Republican National Convention in August, federal records show. Such a discount would violate federal election law barring corporations from contributing directly to campaigns, according to campaign finance experts.
Recent Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings show the Gaetz campaign made four separate payments, ranging from $216.20 to $261.47, for lodging at Trump’s hotel on Aug. 27, the last of four nights of the convention when Trump gave his acceptance speech from the White House lawn.
On that evening, the price for rooms for one adult through Hotels.com began at $795 and ran as high as $2,070, The Daily Beast reported. On the three convention dates prior to Trump’s keynote address, the hotel priced its cheapest room at $695 a night. (Rates for rooms this week range from $695 to $895.)
It appears the hotel cut the Gaetz campaign a discount far below market rates. Even if the campaign had booked the cheapest room available, it appears to have paid about one-third of the market rate, saving anywhere between $470 and $530. Such a discount would represent an in-kind donation to the Gaets campaign, courtesy of Trump Old Post Office LLC. (The FEC treats any item of value as money.)
A photo of Gaetz at the hotel alongside White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and New Jersey convention delegate Joseph Belnome was posted to the latter’s Instagram page on the day of the hotel payments.
Corporate contributions to candidates are illegal under federal election law. It is also illegal for companies to cut campaigns a special deal not given to other customers. When campaigns pay below normal prices, they must report the discount as a contribution. Per the Federal Election Commission:
[A]nything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office is a contribution . . .
For purposes of this section, the term anything of value includes all in-kind contributions. . . [T]he provision of any goods or services without charge or at a charge that is less than the usual and normal charge for such goods or services is a contribution . . .
If goods or services are provided at less than the usual and normal charge, the amount of the in-kind contribution is the difference between the usual and normal charge for the goods or services at the time of the contribution and the amount charged the political committee.
The Gaetz campaign did not report a discount in its latest filing.
While it is possible that the Gaetz campaign booked the rooms in advance, it is unlikely to have made much of a difference. First, the reservations were unlikely to have been made with much advance notice.