Donald Trump has appointed at least nine billionaires to cabinet level appointments, including:
Todd Ricketts, heir to the Ameritrade fortune, to be deputy Secretary of Commerce;
Betsy DeVos, heiress to the Amway fortune, to be Secretary of Education;
Steven Mnuchin, a hedge fund manager, to be Secretary of Treasury;
Wilbur Ross, a noted venture capitalist and corporate raider, to be Secretary of Commerce;
Elaine Chao, heiress to a shipping fortune, to be Secretary of Transportation;
Linda McMahon, owner with her husband Vince of the WWE, to head the Small Business Administration;
Gary Cohn, President of Goldman Sachs, to be Chairman of the National Economic Counsel;
Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE, to be Labor Secretary; and, of course,
Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon, to be Secretary of State.
Most of these people would not naturally be on a list of cabinet appointments; there are so many others who on their own merits would be far more obvious choices. Indeed, in filling each of these positions, Trump has passed up not only candidates who are exponentially more qualified, but those who have been exceedingly loyal to him during the campaign (including Chris Christie, Rudy Guiliani and Newt Gingrich).
Now here’s where it gets interesting. A federal program designed to ensure that cabinet level appointees are free of conflicts, encoded in Section 2634 of federal ethics laws, requires that cabinet level appointees must divest all of their stock holdings (also known as a “certificate of divestiture”). Makes sense, but here is the kicker. While they must divest all their stocks holdings, the law provides that they be allowed a one-time deferment from paying capital gains on these sales. The billionaires who Trump has appointed aren’t just ordinary billionaires. They are all ones who have significant holdings tied up in unrecognized capital gains. As a result, each of the billionaire appointees stands to gain hundreds of millions of dollars from this one-time tax holiday upon their appointment.
Rex Tillerson’s appointment seems clearly traced to Putin’s involvement in the election. But, all the others are such poor fits that one has to wonder why Trump has systematically offered these goodies – and especially the huge financial windfalls at taxpayer expense. Is Donald Trump somebody who has ever made others wealthy and taken nothing for himself?