Trend Watch

Trump and the Emoluments Clause

The clause is designed to prevent bribery


The relatively obscure word emolument has trended repeatedly since November 2016. The word has been used in news coverage of Trump's conflicts of interest.

emolument

Pictured: Ivanka, Donald, and Melania Trump. Ivanka Trump's presence at a meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister raised questions about Trump's conflicts of interest.

The Washington Post recently reported considerable interest in booking Trump’s Washington hotel as a deliberate way for foreign visitors to show their support for the incoming Trump White House. Two legal experts—Richard Painter, who was former President George W. Bush’s chief ethics counsel, and noted constitutional legal expert Lawrence Tribe—both say that this appears to be an “emolument” (a gift) that a president isn’t allowed to accept.
—Jeff Nesbit, Time.com, 21 Nov. 2016

The emoluments clause could also come into play when Trump’s business sells condos at its properties or partners with foreign investors in the United States or other countries. A condo sale to a foreign dignitary could be seen as an emolument, especially if it were above the market rate.
—Paul Blumenthal, huffingtonpost.com, 19 Nov. 2016

Emolument has been in use in English since the late 15th century, and is defined as “the returns arising from office or employment usually in the form of compensation or perquisites.” There is an additional sense of the word, now obsolete, which is “advantage, benefit.”

The word comes from the Latin word emolumentum, which means “profit” or “gain”; the literal meaning of the word is “sum paid to have grain ground up,” as it comes from the word emolere (“to grind up”).

The emoluments clause of the United States Constitution (Article 1, section 9) reads as follows: “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

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