In a regularly scheduled meeting on February 21, 2017, the city council of West Hollywood approved a measure that directed staff members to prohibit financial support from the City Hall and discourage doing business with entities that provide financial support for the President of the United States and his revocable trust. The city will review businesses and other organizations with which the city does business and develop a list as part of considering the next steps. The city council also approved a measure directing staff to look into socially conscious banking policies, a move that may affect relations with large financial institutions such as Wells Fargo.
West Hollywood City Council Approves Steps to Prohibit Financial Support
Ethics And Legality Concern
West Hollywood Mayor Lauren Meister said of the issue:
“Ultimately, this is an ethics issue and a legal issue. We’re addressing public concerns that President Trump continues to benefit from his business interests while in office. The Domestic Emoluments Clause clearly states that the President shall not receive any gifts or benefits other than his compensation — no other President in this country’s history has so blatantly disregarded protocol and the Constitution. And, as Council members, we take an oath to uphold the Constitution.”
Is there really a Domestic Emoluments Clause in the Constitution, or is this a case where Mayor Meister is misremembering Article 1, Section 8, Clause 9 of the Constitution which reads:
“No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
This part of the Constitution, known as the Emoluments Clause, is the reason that the United States does not have nobility in the classical European sense and the reason that gifts or donations from foreign parties were such a large issue in last year’s presidential election. Hillary Clinton was widely accused of selling future favors that she would have been able to deliver if she had won the election in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation from foreigners. The Emoluments Clause does not seem to say anything about profiting from domestic business interests owned by the President of the United States, however.
Ethics might apply to Trump as much as it would any other president, but it also goes both ways. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were not expected to liquidate their investment portfolios before being sworn in for their first term although those portfolios probably included corporations that did business worldwide. Trump has likewise invested his personal fortune into businesses which operate an international level. If Clinton and Obama did nothing unethical by effectively having a part ownership of international corporations in the form of their stocks, Trump’s ownership of businesses by itself should also not be considered unethical.
Likewise, West Hollywood isn’t doing anything unethical or illegal by wishing to understand the organizations which they do business with so that they can make choices that are more in line with the city’s stated values. Then it simply becomes a matter of whether they may wish to go through the trouble of canceling any relevant contracts and negotiating with equivalent businesses that aren’t owned by Trump. Then the city is simply refusing to enrich someone whom the city council doesn’t like very much even though this obviously creates more work for its staff.
When Do Local Government Rights Become An Issue?
The federal government typically uses money as part of a “carrots and sticks” approach to getting governments at the state level and below to agree to implement programs it wishes to see put in place. This funding is usually significant enough that President Trump was able to make waves when he said he was considering pulling federal funds going to sanctuary cities that were protecting undocumented immigrants.
What this amounts to is that West Hollywood is refusing to use its available funds to support President Trump’s businesses. In many ways, it isn’t all that different from the Texas legislature’s HB 1076, which was a bill introduced in 2013 that would have forbidden the use of Texas’ state agencies to enforce new federal gun laws. The state or local government is simply deciding how it wants to spend its money without actually interfering with federal agencies that are enforcing federal law and that would hold up if challenged in court. What this basically means is that Trump, as both a businessman and the U.S. President, would be forced to acknowledge the right of West Hollywood to decide who it wants to do business with.
This is true even if West Hollywood may be operating under the impression that President Trump may be participating in unethical behavior. They may be right or they may be wrong, but it’s their right to terminate a contract if they believe that the business is not meeting their needs or their values.
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