In April 2017, Press Secretary Sean Spicer took the podium in the White House briefing room and announced that the president was donating his first-quarter salary to the National Park Service. With a serious look on his face, Spicer pulled out an oversize check with an oversize signature. It was the first of several checks that Donald Trump signed while in office, handing over his $400,000 salary in exchange for good publicity.
That was pocket change for Trump. His real money came from the business he refused to divest, not from his government salary. An analysis of documents, some of which only became public in recent weeks, shows just how much Trump’s businesses raked in while he was in office. Dig through everything—including property records, ethics disclosures, debt documents and securities filings—and you’ll find about $2.4 billion of revenue from January 2017 to December 2020.
If not for the pandemic, there would have been even more. Trump’s business was hauling in about $650 million annually during the first three years of his presidency. But in 2020, revenues plunged to an estimated $450 million as Covid infected the business. “It’s hurting me, and it’s hurting Hilton, and it’s hurting all of the great hotel chains all over the world,” Trump said in a March 2020 press conference at the White House. “It’s hurting everybody. I mean, there are very few businesses that are doing well now.”
The biggest portion of Trump’s revenue flowed through his clubs and golf properties, which generated approximately $940 million over four years. Trump National Doral, the golf resort in Miami, contributed roughly $270 million to that total. Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s club in Palm Beach, brought in about $90 million.
A New Jersey golf club, where the former president has been spending time this summer, took in $60 million or so. Those top-line figures didn’t all end up in Trump’s pocket, however. Golf clubs and resorts are expensive to manage, with operating profit margins running at 20% in good times. During the pandemic, Trump’s traditional courses fared reasonably well, but his golf resorts had to contend with long shutdowns, causing his overall golf and club revenues to drop 27% to an estimated $190 million in 2020.
Donald Trump owns a 30% interest in 555 California Street, a San Francisco office building.
David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Fortunately for Trump, he also had high-margin commercial real estate holdings to bolster his bottom line. That proved especially critical in 2020, as commercial tenants—many locked into long-term leases—continued to pay rent.
At 555 California Street, a San Francisco office building in which Trump holds a 30% stake, his rent actually inched up last year, from $42 million to $43 million, according to an analysis of filings. The same thing happened at New York City’s 1290 Avenue of the Americas, where Trump’s haul increased from roughly $55 million to $58 million.
The hotel, licensing and management businesses, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well. Estimated revenues stayed well above $100 million from 2017 to 2019 but dropped closer to $50 million in 2020. No part of Trump’s portfolio was more poorly positioned to withstand such a blow, given the debt load against his hotels.
Inside his Washington, D.C., hotel, revenues flatlined at about $52 million from 2017 to 2019. With the top line stalled out, the hotel didn’t seem to be producing enough profit before the pandemic to cover the interest on its $170 million loan from Deutsche Bank. Things only got worse when Covid-19 hit, and revenues plunged to less $20 million. It’s no wonder the Trump Organization tried to sell the place.
Just down the street from the White House stands the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
But the former president didn’t have much luck offloading that hotel or other assets last year. Trump ditched $32 million of real estate in 2017, an estimated $53 million in 2018, then $32 million in 2019. In 2020, however, he pocketed just $435,000, by selling condos in Vegas. The lack of deals was one reason revenues dropped about 25% to an estimated $450 million. A smaller sum, to be sure, but still more than 1,000 times the annual salary he gave away.