When it comes to buying access and influence with Donald Trump, lobbyists and corporate CEOs who want things from the government can skip the campaign middleman and put money directly into Trump’s pockets while getting access to him at his most relaxed and sociable. It’s as easy—if not cheap—as getting a membership at one of his favorite golf clubs, and now we know some of the people involved, because USA Today has done important investigative work digging through golf handicap records to identify members of Trump’s clubs, whose members are not public:
Members of the clubs Trump has visited most often as president — in Florida, New Jersey and Virginia — include 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, according to scores they posted online. […]
The review 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.
Among Trump club members 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.
Of course they deny talking about business while golfing, blah blah blah, but whether that’s true is not even the point. The point is that these rich people who stand to get more rich from government contracts and actions who are, literally, in the club. They’re Trump’s people, the people who simultaneously enrich him personally and are his peers in wealth and golf, and he can see it when he looks around him on the golf course or in the clubhouse or on the member rolls. Lobbying on a specific issue is fine, but having the president see your interests and his as naturally aligned—and having a president interested above all in personal profit know that you are paying him big pots of cash—is a big step beyond that.