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The Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles. (Photo: Yuki Shimazu/flickr/cc)

The Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles. (Photo: Yuki Shimazu/flickr/cc)

Golfing With Trump: Analysis Reveals Powerful Elite Can Literally Play for Access

"No theory of ethical governance could justify this."

Andrea Germanos

A new USA TODAY investigation reveals that top executives, lobbyists, and contractors are buying access to President Donald Trump through memberships at the president's numerous golf clubs, adding further concerns about the administration's ethical conflicts.

Reacting to the story, one observer wrote on Twitter: "In the developing world, this is called corruption."

Membership lists of Trump's golf clubs are not publicly available, so USA TODAY tracked the names down through social media posts, news stories, and records on the U.S. Golf Association website, which show players' handicaps and scores.

With those records, the news outlet found 4,500 names. Prioritizing the clubs where Trump has spent the most time since taking office—in New Jersey, Virginia, and Florida—the reporting found "at least 50 executives whose companies hold federal contracts and 21 lobbyists and trade group officials. Two-thirds played on one of the 58 days the president was there," the reporting found. It further shows

that, for the first time in U.S. history, wealthy people with interests before the government have a chance for close and confidential access to the president as a result of payments that enrich him personally. It is a view of the president available to few other Americans.

Listed among the ranks of the membership

are top executives of defense contractors, a lobbyist for the South Korean government, a lawyer helping Saudi Arabia fight claims over the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the leader of a pesticide trade group that sought successfully to persuade the Trump administration not to ban an insecticide government scientists linked to health risks.

"No theory of ethical governance could justify this," tweeted Walter Shaub, who resigned as Office of Government Ethics (OGE) Director in July following ethics battles with the Trump White House.

Shaub was also quoted in the USA TODAY article, saying, "Face time is everything when it comes to Washington," adding, "The president bopping around his properties gives them access to him."

(It should also be noted that members' club initiation fees, which can be upwards of $100,000, personally profit Trump, as McClatchy reported in July. )

USA TODAY also notes an exchange that took place in February between Trump and an airline industry lobbyist who appeared to tout his membership at one of the president's golf clubs..

As Quartz reported at the time, Kevin M. Burke, president and CEO of Airports Council International–North America, said to Trump at a White House gathering, "I'm a member of your club, by the way." Trump responded by saying, “Very good, very good."

"It's not a quid pro quo, but it's one step away from a suggestion of an exchange," said Norman Eisen, a former Obama administration ethics official, to Quartz. "It's part of a larger pattern, that is part of a bigger picture."

The new investigation follows the launch of a new Public Citizen report, "President Trump Inc.," which spotlights his "for-profit presidency" with an interactive map that documents the tangled web of his vast business interests.

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