This Week in Conflicts: Royalties for Trump Family Photos, the Businesses Tied to the Head of Consumer Protection Bureau and Pruitt Resigns


This week, the first lady made at least $100,000 in royalties from photos of the Trump family, a look at the businesses tied to the new head of the nation’s consumer protection bureau and Environmental Protection Agency Chief, Scott Pruitt, resigns.

Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Consumer Protection Head Conflicts?

The latest disclosure statement for Andrew Smith, the new director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, shows the director provided legal or lobbying services for more than 50 companies and business groups.

Some of those companies included:

  • Equifax
  • Wells Fargo
  • Bank of America
  • Goldman Sachs
  • American Express
  • Uber
  • Amazon
  • Disney
  • Microsoft

Remington A. Gregg, an attorney with the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen said, “the bureau that Andrew Smith leads plays a pivotal role in protecting consumers. Yet he will be placed on the sidelines for many of its most consequential investigations and decisions because he has represented so many of these companies.”

A screenshot shows how an individual Mahaux photo of the Trump family appears on the Getty Images website. (Image Credit: NBC News, Getty Images)

Image Royalties

Last year Melania Trump earned at least $100,000 from an agreement with Getty Images, NBC News is reporting. 

The income was listed on President Donald Trump’s latest financial disclosure, according to the news article, and allowed the photo agency and those subscribing to its service to use 187 photos of the first family taken between 2010 and 2016 by Belgian photographer Regine Mahaux.

As NBC News reports, “it’s not unheard of for celebrities to earn royalties from photos of themselves, but it’s very unusual for the wife of a currently serving elected official.” The financial disclosure lists the royalty income earned by the first lady in 2017 between $100,000 and $1 million.

According to NBC, the licensing agreement between Getty and Melania stipulates “the pictures can be used in ‘positive stories only.’” Many news organizations subscribe to Getty Images and use the service to obtain photos for their news coverage.

“Yahoo News, NBC News, Marie Claire, the Daily Mail, My San Antonio, Houston Chronicle, House Beautiful, and SF Gate, the website for The San Francisco Chronicle, are among those that have featured Mahaux’s highly stylized family portraits since Trump took office,” according to the news article.

The Dominick, formerly Trump SoHo, located at the corner of Varick Street and Spring Street in the Hudson Square neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City, was designed by David Rockwell and Handel and Associates. This view of the building’s tower is from Varick Street. (Image Credit: Wikimedia user Beyond my Ken)

Follow the Money Trail

A new investigation from the McClatchy D.C. newsroom traces millions of dollars used to purchase three condos in the former Trump SoHo Tower in New York City. The documents and interviews reviewed by the news organization reveal a close tie between the money used to purchase the condos and a fraud case in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.

The head of the anti-money laundering graduate program at Case Western Reserve University Law School in Ohio, Richard Gordon, said the money trail shows “classic red flags for money laundering.”

The money’s origin, according to the investigation, can be traced to hundreds of millions of dollars involved in a fraud case involving Kazakhstani billionaire Mukhtar Ablyazov. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Kazakh court for embezzling money from a bank he used to head. From there the money winded through offshore shell companies and a bank linked to terrorism to the United States.

There are currently two civil court cases against Ablyazov in New York and California that allege Ablyazov and a family member invested stolen money into U.S. businesses.

“If the ultimate source of the money was criminal proceeds, then that makes it a money laundering case,” Gordon said.

Last year the Trump Organization ended it’s licensing deal with the high-rise, removing the Trump name from the building. It’s now called the Dominick.

Pruitt Resigns

After months of ethics controversies, Pruitt has resigned. 

The head of the EPA cited “the unrelenting attacks” on himself and his family which he said, “have taken a sizable toll on all of us.”

On Twitter, President Trump said Pruitt’s deputy Andrew Wheeler will assume the duties of acting administrator of the EPA.

More conflicts of interest in the news

About this Project

Sunlight’s “Tracking Trump’s Conflicts of Interest” presents a comprehensive, free, searchable database detailing all of President Donald J.Trump’s known business dealings and personal interests that may conflict with his public duties as president of the United States. Read our reporting to stay current on related news, learn more about conflicts of interest at every level of government and search our database.  If you’re familiar with any of the conflicts we’re tracking you can email us or contact us here to contribute to the project.

Lynn Walsh is an Emmy award-winning freelance journalist who has worked in investigative, data and TV journalism at the national level as well as locally in California, Ohio, Texas and Florida. She produces content focused on government accountability, public access to information and freedom of expression issues. She’s also helping to rebuild trust between newsrooms and the public through the Trusting News project.