The incoming First Family found another ethical line to blur when it was reported that President-elect Donald Trump's son Eric was auctioning off the opportunity to have coffee with sister Ivanka in a fundraising effort for his personal foundation.
The money raised for the Eric Trump Foundation was slated to go to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital of Tennessee, but Eric said he was considering shutting down the whole operation—10 days after its launch—just an hour after the New York Times raised questions on Thursday about potential ethics concerns. The auction was being hosted by the New York-based company Charitybuzz, which often handles celebrity fundraising efforts.
As of this writing, the link that sent potential buyers to "Coffee with Ivanka" now directs back to the company's homepage.
Ozan M. Ozkural, a London-based investment manager, reportedly paid nearly $60,000 to have coffee with Ivanka to "gain insight into topics like President-elect Donald J. Trump's possible future dealings with Turkey and other nations where Mr. Ozkural invests, he said," according to the Times.
This is hardly the first time the Trumps have benefited from their father's rise to power. Ivanka, whose husband Jared Kushner is a close adviser to the president-elect, has participated in meetings and phone calls with various heads of state, and all three of the adult children—minus daughter Tiffany—arranged and sat in on a meeting with tech industry elites that the Washington Post called "one of his biggest policy meetings yet."
The Times reports:
The charitable fund-raising by Mr. Trump's children is problematic, ethics lawyers said, because of the unusual role they are playing in the transition process, with Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, attending meetings the president-elect had with executives from major technology companies and with the prime minister of Japan, and Mr. Trump's oldest son, Donald Jr., helping to select the nominee for interior secretary.
The Obama administration prohibited any member of the first family from directly soliciting charitable donations, said Norm Eisen, who served as an ethics lawyer early in President Obama's tenure. Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, have attended occasional charitable fund-raising events, including the Congressional Black Caucus annual dinners. The Obamas also allowed their daughters' high school to auction off magazines they had signed, Mr. Eisen said, but they did not auction off access to themselves.
"You never, ever want to have government officials using their public office for the private gain, even for a worthy charity," Eisen said. "That was how we did it."
Trump is poised to enter office with a historic amount of presidential conflicts of interest. Senate Democrats are rolling out legislation that would require him to disclose and divest his financial assets, but the role his children play in the administration remains particularly complicated. In addition to taking part in high-level meetings, Ivanka has previously signaled her interest in being involved in policy decisions.
Fred Wertheimer, president of the advocacy group Democracy 21, told the Times, "This is just wrong. The president's family should not be out raising money for whatever cause, in exchange for a potential influence buyer who wants to get his views to the president."