❮ Return to Our Work

Newsletter | Revolving Door Project Newsletter | June 5, 2024

Trump Is The Corporate Convict Candidate

2024 ElectionCorporate Crackdown
Trump Is The Corporate Convict Candidate

The Biden campaign can’t be shy about calling Trump a felon—and tying him to other white-collar criminals

This newsletter was originally published on our Substack. Read and subscribe here.

As I’m sure all of our readers are aware, former President Donald Trump was found guilty last Thursday on all 34 counts of falsifying business records during the 2016 campaign. The case concerned hush-money payments made through his then-lawyer Michael Cohen in order to conceal potentially damning stories during the 2016 campaign. 

Trump now holds the unique honor of being the first United States president convicted of a felony. This is a golden opportunity for the Biden campaign to highlight the glaring distinction between the candidates: Trump is a corporate criminal hellbent on using the presidency to further the interests of himself and other corporate criminals. President Biden has leveraged executive branch power to dismantle criminal practices that pad the pockets of corporations. After some initial hesitancy to touch on Trump’s conviction, Biden rightly appears poised to make this a forefront issue in the campaign.

We at the Revolving Door Project have long been calling for the Biden administration to make corporate villains public enemy number one. Badly behaved executives are always appealing targets, and that goes double at a time when the American people are pessimistic about the economic outlook of the country and simultaneously attribute a large part of inflation to corporate greed. Pundits can scold the public all they want about how this perception is inaccurate, but the reality is that people do not feel positive about the economy (even if their own financial situation may be good). Rather than follow the same tack as finger-wagging pundits, elected officials are better off acknowledging where pocketbooks are hurting, acting aggressively against the (corporate) causes of that pain, and then being clear that their partisan enemies stand with the villains in question. If your job security depends on the public vote, follow where the public is.

The administration has effectively used executive rule-making and enforcement to execute the first half of this strategy. Executive agencies have instituted an economy-wide crackdown on junk fees, lowered prescription drug costs (while prosecuting notorious price-gougers), and gone after Big Tech for various abuses of market power and data practices. We’ve applauded these efforts, but Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and their political team have failed to name the specific villains responsible in order for the public to connect with the issues and appreciate the successes. If an administration unleashes a populist enforcement campaign with only press releases as a communications strategy, it doesn’t make a material political impact.

That’s why it is well past time for Biden and his team to call out both Trump and his corporate backers for what they are: white-collar criminals.

Trump’s Cabal of Convicts 

Two major pressure points—housing and gas prices—present perfect opportunities to do so. 

The Department of Justice just executed a raid on Cortland Management, an Atlanta-based corporate landlord, for algorithmic price-gouging with the help of software company RealPage. This is just the latest example, but we’ve been stalwart in urging Biden to take on RealPage as the pillar of corporate rent-gouging. Similarly, a recent Federal Trade Commission report alleged a price-fixing scheme by Scott Sheffield, the former CEO of oil producer and ExxonMobil subsidiary Pioneer, in collusion with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to restrict oil supply and therefore raise gas prices. 

To make matters worse, Sheffield has been a prolific donor to Republicans running for seats on key state regulatory bodies. Meanwhile, Republican-aligned RealPage and other corporate landlords have close ties to Harlan Crow, the notorious benefactor of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. These are prime targets to publicly rebuke for having manufactured high costs of gas and housing, both of which are central components of people’s everyday economic concerns. Unfortunately, Biden himself has yet to call these corporations and executives out by name.

This issue brings us back to the convicted felon running for president. Sheffield previously lobbied Trump to urge OPEC to limit global oil supply. Plus, just days after news of the Sheffield price-fixing scandal broke, Trump was cozying up to oil executives, asking for $1 billion in campaign support and explicitly offering lax regulation and fast-tracked mergers in exchange. In other words, Trump was selling the very get-out-of-jail-free cards the fossil fuel industry is seeking in order to soak customers further.

These are not disconnected scandals—they are the modus operandi of the Trump campaign, his previous and potential presidencies, and the corporate villains eager to sell out the public interest. The timing of his remarks is not coincidental. Trump is a convicted criminal. He is supported by corporate criminals (a cabal of convicts, as sports talk radio’s Colin Cowherd put it). He promises to ignore their criminality if they help him regain the levers of power. 

Politics is about storytelling, weaving together seemingly disparate events to explain how the world works, what the stakes of an election are, and how you are working to make people’s lives better. Trump’s criminality is not only bad because he broke laws—it’s bad because he is expressly willing to break laws, and enable others to do the same, at the expense of the American people. Trump is selling the idea that he will be rude and break a lot of norms on behalf of ordinary people—but only the first half of that unique selling proposition is remotely true. Biden and his team must be relentless in painting a picture for the electorate of how the convicted felon Trump is only it for himself.

A Turning Point (Hopefully)

While Biden still has not named and shamed the pernicious corporations and individuals uplifting Trump, he has taken the plunge into discussing Trump’s conviction. In the days following the guilty verdict, reports indicated that Democrats may await polling data before making Trump’s felon status a central issue, causing some consternation that the campaign would not give the issue the attention it deserves.

Perhaps some polling data came in over the weekend or perhaps the president or his staff found some spine they’d been saving for later, because Biden on Monday called Trump a “convicted felon” and his attacks on the justice system “disturbing.” Despite doing so in an off camera fundraising event, the remarks made headlines in virtually every outlet…which is exactly the point.

Biden and Democrats cannot wait for focus groups and polls to let them know if voters care about a presidential candidate being a convicted felon. Polling pre-verdict indicated that a conviction would swing opinions in Biden’s favor, and waiting to second-guess everything only shows indecisiveness. Even if we truly did not know whether the verdict hurt Trump, it is incumbent upon Biden’s team to make people care and ensure every single voter is aware of Trump’s criminality. The best way to do so is to tie his criminality to the other issues of the day. Political chess-moves aside, it’s also simply the right thing to do. Biden ran in 2020 on “restoring the soul of the nation” from Trump’s venality; a President whose image is ostensibly tied to his personal decency should lay down clear moral markers at the historic event of his predecessor’s felony conviction.

By drawing connections between Trump and the criminals that support him, the conviction for hush-money payments comes to represent more than an isolated event, but rather a pervasive mindset among Trump and his ilk. They believe that one’s monetary fortune can shield them from consequences. Trump showed a willingness to break the law in order to gain power in the same way that Sheffield and RealPage were willing to break the law in order to pad profits, regardless of the pain that it caused for average consumers. Biden and his team need to convince the public to view Trump in this light. If you give a white-collar criminal the White House, he will empower other white-collar criminals to get off scot free while they pick the pockets of the American people. A real American leader stands up to that, which is why Biden should act.

Want more? Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to in the last week:

RELEASE: Justice’s Raid of Cortland Management Hopefully Foretells an Energized Crackdown on Price-Fixing

You Can BET On Trump Picking The Worst HR Guy Possible

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

LISTEN: Citations Needed Podcast – “Ideological Shaping of the Possible Part I: Democrats & the Black Box Corporate Consulting Industry”

Progressive groups squeeze Durbin over judicial ethics

Letter to Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco on Off-the-Record Meeting with Senior Tech Execs

Real Estate Industry Attacks LIHTC Rent Cap Win

Independent Agency Spotlight Update May 2024

Image Credit: “Donald Trump” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

2024 ElectionCorporate Crackdown

Related Articles

More articles by KJ Boyle

❮ Return to Our Work