WASHINGTON: The next US election is still more than 1,200 days away, but Donald Trump is already drumming up cash to pay for his campaign -- and chose the Trump International Hotel, two steps from the White House, as a fundraising venue.
On Wednesday, the 45th president of the United States took part in a dinner benefiting the Republican Party and his own re-election bid, with a seat at the table reportedly starting at $35,000 -- and rising to $100,000 for super donors.
The White House is upfront about the president's intention to seek a second term.
"Of course he is running for re-election," Trump's spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Wednesday when quizzed on the topic.
"But right now, he is focused on his agenda, focused on the midterms, and raising money for the party," she said. "I don't think that's abnormal for any president."
The US leader himself has often referred to his plans for the eight years to come.
While the phenomenon leaves many uncomfortable, it has long been part of American political life for the president to contribute star power to fundraising events -- be it for his party or his own cause.
But in the case of the business mogul-turned-president Trump, things are a bit more complicated: the rich donors come to hear to him speak Wednesday night were contributing not only to his future campaign, but to his real estate empire as well.
Some 200 Democratic lawmakers recently sued the president, arguing that he is violating the Constitution by accepting foreign payments through his empire of hotels, golf courses and other properties.
A separate suit filed by the attorneys general of Maryland and the US capital claims the Trump International Hotel, which opened a few weeks before the November election, enjoys an unfair advantage over rival venues due to its links to the presidency.
Both lawsuits are underpinned by the notion that Trump is embroiled in a permanent conflict of interest, having failed to put sufficient distance between himself and his business empire: while the billionaire has entrusted his sons with day-to-day management of the Trump Organization, he retains his full stake.
The plaintiffs note, for instance, that foreign delegations regularly opt to stay at Trump's hotel when in Washington, that foreign governments have chosen to buy or rent property built by the Trump Organization, or that Chinese authorities have registered Trump-owned trademarks.
The location of Trump's luxury hotel, in a renovated former post office building, is a symbol in itself -- on Pennsylvania Avenue, which links the White House to the Capitol, the seat of legislative power.
Several non-governmental organizations rallied about 100 protestors in front of the hotel, who shouted chants of "Shame!" ahead of the event.
"It's sheer commercialization," said 61-year-old Sean Capozzi, of the fact that the dinner was being held at Trump hotel.
Delvone Michael -- a senior political strategist for the Working Families Party, which helped organize the event -- echoed those sentiments, saying "it's certainly a conflict of interest that the president is driving business through his own hotel."
"This kind of signifies what's wrong with the country," the 44-year-old said.