The mafia uses a practice known as “kicking up” or “paying tribute” to the boss. Essentially, all members of a mafia family must make sure that some of their earnings end up in the boss’ pocket. From the member’s point of view, “kicking up” is a way to show respect, curry favor, and reinforce the hierarchical power structure. From the boss’s point of view, it’s a way to get rich.
…Apologists can nibble at the margins, but there is no escaping that Barr’s choice to patronize a Trump property, like Pence’s, will put thousands of dollars in Trump’s pocket.
…This trend of high-ranking federal officials choosing to pay thousands of dollars to use Trump’s private properties is problematic on two levels. First, the payments could violate the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits federal government officials from accepting (1) “any present, emoluments, title or office” from any foreign country or (2) any income beyond official salary from any American state or the federal government. There already is pending litigation under the Emoluments Clause over Trump’s receipt of revenue from foreign leaders who have stayed at Trump properties. Trump’s receipt of income directly from the federal government to cover Pence’s stay at the hotel presents another potential violation of the Emoluments Clause.
…Second, the decisions by Pence and Barr to patronize Trump’s private business raise vexing precedent and serious ethical questions. Do other high-ranking federal officials need to take notice and follow suit? Will they be punished or disfavored if they don’t throw a couple bucks Trump’s way? Is there some implicit understanding that Trump will favor those who pay? Even if the answer to all of these questions is “no,” the appearance itself is terrible; the American public rightly will wonder if ethical lines have been blurred, and that in itself is problematic.