Trump Organization May Have Broken Law by Ordering Presidential Seal Golf Tee Markers
The Trump Organization reportedly ordered "dozens" of new golf tee markers with the presidential seal to be used at Trump golf courses.
And that, by definition, is illegal.
It's a violation of Title 18 of U.S. Code § 713, which states that using the seal of the U.S. President (among other government seals) of the purpose of making it look like an official government sponsorship is punishable by a fine and/or up to six months in prison.
Joseph E. Bates, owner of Eagle Sign and Design, a metalworking and sign company, told ProPublica that the company received an order of dozens of 12" replicas of the presidential seal to be placed next to the tee boxes at Trump golf course holes, but declined to say exactly who the client was. But, the order form reviewed by ProPublica reportedly listed the customer as "Trump International."
Eagle Sign and Design posted a picture of the tee markers on Facebook and then removed it. Some reporters managed to obtain images before it was taken down.
— Caitlin Hu (@husca) March 5, 2018
"Apparently when you do something that is related to Trump it means you'll get a lot of questions," Bates told USA Today. "We just did what our customer wanted."
An employee at Eagle Sign and Design told USA Today that the company had made products for Trump golf courses before.
What sets this case aside from the rest, however, is the use of the presidential seal in a way that implies that the golf courses are related to or endorsed by the office of the President.
"[The] law is an expression of the idea that the government and government authority should not be used for private purpose," Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University specializing in government and legal ethics, told ProPublica. "It would be a misuse of government authority."
It's not the first time a president has had personalized objects with the seal. Ronald and Nancy Reagan had china featuring the seal, and Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both had sets of golf balls with the seal. The difference, however, is that those weren't used by a private company like the Trump Organization, from which the president vowed to sever ties after winning the election, claiming to leave the business side of his life in the hands of his sons.
If the golf courses that bare the president's name also feature the seal of the President, it presents an issue with the Emoluments Clause, which dictates that the president can't accept financial gifts from foreign entities, as this would blur the lines between his business and his government careers.
Previously, the tees at Trump golf courses featured the Trump family crest (which the family adopted from the previous owner of the Mar-a-Lago resort, adding the Trump surname to it).
While the Trump Organization using the presidential seal for the golf courses clearly isn't kosher, the U.S. Department of Justice hasn't made any comment on the issue yet.
In the past, presidential administrations have put the kibosh on others using the seal improperly. At one point, the George W. Bush administration sent a letter to the humor publication The Onion after it used the seal in a story.
Richard Painter, vice chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, and former associate White House counsel during the Bush administration, told ProPublica that he would have stopped any illegal activity from happening—fast.
"If we had heard of a private company using it for commercial purposes, we would have sent them a nasty letter," he said.