Is there anything illegal about the president promoting products of a privately owned company?

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  1. Possibly … It really depends on the circumstances surrounding the promotion or what is seen as a promotion. If they were simply answering a question then I wouldn’t call it promoting.

If they were making promotional statements about a product they had a financial or personal stake in, or if they were lying about how they really felt about a product, then that would be promoting then that should be illegal because it’s obviously being done for financial gain.

The gray area, for me, is when they’re helping a company that’s been attacked for saying nice things about them, like what happened to that canned bean company not to long ago. All the company owner did was pay Trump a compliment, and not an overly extravagant one, at that.

But, listening to the anti-Trumpers on the left, you would have thought the owner had committed the most heinous crime imaginable. In that case, I think Trump and/or any of his associates were right in paying the product a compliment, or, if you prefer, promoting the product to try and undo the damage the other side was doing.

2. There is nothing wrong with the President “promoting” the products of a privately-owned company, as long as he does not have a financial interest in that company. As Raymond Beck noted, President Reagan talked about his favorite jelly beans (Jelly Bellies, which actually are way above average). And also nearly everything the President does is news, so the mere act of publicly wearing a Gucci suit or Prada Shoes is going to “promote” those products.

But if the President has a financial interest in the privately-owned company, that becomes a different story.

But if the President has a significant ownership share in the privately-owned company, there’s at least a justifiable assumption that he’s doing it for his personal benefit. That’s not so good. He’s supposed to be promoting the “public interest” (increasing our overall wealth, if nothing broader), and instead is promoting his personal wealth.

That’s why most recent Presidents have put their money in a blind trust, where he doesn’t even know what actions will increase his wealth and which will decrease it. (Except to the extent that promoting the growth of the economy as a whole will also improve his own wealth if prudently invested.)

That’s kind of difficult for somebody whose wealth isn’t just in stocks and bonds and suchlike, but who directly owns one or more companies and is involved (or his family is involved) in managing those companies.

But that’s his problem. Not ours. It’s up to him to manage things in a way that doesn’t look corrupt, even if a really detailed analysis would show that his choice is “the best” one for some value of ‘best.”

The appearance of corruption is nearly as harmful as the actuality. It destroys trust in the President and the government as a whole

3. You need to know the law of the state of which person is the head of state.

If he or she is promoting such products as part of a trade mission to a foreign audience with the view that their countries procure them, I suppose this is within the law.

The following might be acceptable and within the law:

  • Any wearing or using recognizable products in a normal manner without obvious promotion
  • Using products regularly purchased under say “By appointment to the Head of State” methodology (as in UK)
  • Wearing or using an acknowledged gift to (the Office) of Head of State which came about by say, a visit to the company’s factory.

The following might not be acceptable within the law:

  • Secret gifts with secret excessive funds to promote
  • Products with a promise of future benefits after he or she left office.

4. As Bill Clinton famously said, it depends on what your meaning of “is” is.
So, probably it is not done, but what is your idea of “promoting” mean? It’s up to you to define your question.

After the CEO of a major Latin food distributor was recognized by President Trump for a very generous donation to feed the hungry, people protested that he was endorsing that company.
What they missed was that President Obama also did the same thing, with the same man, for much the same reason. A year or two later, Michelle Obama recognized him too, for working on her project to feed kids healthy meals.
Along with considering anything illegal, you have to consider who gained what. If anybody promotes something without personal gain, I doubt there would be charges of illegality. Especially when it is just name-calling, instead of facts.

5. This is a great question in the light of recent events involving impeached for life president of the US Donald Trump.

Various laws prohibit administration officials from anything that might look like a conflict of interest because these are appointed positions.

However, the president and vice-president, being elected officials, are exempt from these laws.

The exemptions relied on the officeholder to have some sense of honour and principles not to abuse their positions. They were framed with men of integrity in mind.

Trump has demonstrated since even before he took office that he lacks even the most basic of morals, so an exemption to conflict of interest rules would be like a red rag to a bull.

But the question raises what I believe is an even more important point: Namely, that just because you can flout a rule or even if you have the law on your side, doesn’t mean that you should.

Decent people act decently even when they don’t have to; an indecent person will act indecently no matter what.

And that is what the US has as it’s president; an indecent individual who acts indecently pretty much all of the time.

6. Only if they, or a person with whom they have a financial link, benefit from the sales by the company. If the company makes major contributions to their campaign, that becomes a grey area. Is he providing a service to supporters on government time or expressing his opinion of the product under ordinary free speech rights? How about if he plans a product sold by someone who donated to an opponent’s campaign? It gets complicated to say the least.

Before the advent of a zillion campaign finance laws the solution was simple. Let the press report it and the voters make up their own mind if it was appropriate or not. With much of the press heavily biased and a mindset that anything not legally defined as criminal activity is acceptable until proven otherwise by the press or courts 

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