Biden under scrutiny for failing to disclose vacations paid for by donor friends

 June 8, 2023

Conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been accused in recent months by Democrats and progressive activists of violating ethics requirements by failing to disclose "gifts" received from a wealthy personal friend that included free rides on their private jet and yacht and free vacations at their various properties.

Rather ironically, President Joe Biden is now accused of doing the exact same thing -- failing to disclose on an annual report free vacations he enjoyed at properties owned by donors who are also friends, the New York Post reported last month.

Biden failed to disclose paid-for vacations

According to the Post, President Biden is known to have gone on at least three vacations in 2022 to beachfront properties owned by wealthy donors, at least two of which are known to have been paid for by others, while it is unclear but suspected that he also didn't pay for the remaining getaway.

That includes a week-long stay in August at the mansion owned by wealthy Democratic donor Maria Allwin on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, for which all expenses were reportedly covered by the owner.

In November, the Biden family spent six days at the sprawling Nantucket Island estate of billionaire investor and Democratic donor David Rubenstein. It is not known if the president paid the expenses for that vacation.

Then in late December, Biden and members of his family traveled to the Caribbean island of St. Croix and stayed for a week at the beachfront home owned by wealthy business owners and Democratic donors Bill and Connie Neville, who reportedly covered all expenses for their stay.

None of those paid-for vacations were included under the section marked "Gifts and Travel Reimbursements," or anywhere else for that matter, on the annual Public Financial Disclosure Report filed in mid-May that all executive branch personnel, including President Biden, are required by law to submit.

Likely not covered under "personal hospitality" exemption

The Post reported that two top ethics experts -- Walter Shaub of the Obama administration and Richard Painter of the W. Bush administration -- both stated that the paid-for vacations should have been disclosed and were likely not covered under the "personal hospitality" exemption, especially if the owners of those properties were not personally present while President Biden was there.

That particular exemption from the disclosure requirements of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 is defined in 5a U.S.C. Sec. 109(14) as: "'personal hospitality of any individual' means hospitality extended for a nonbusiness purpose by an individual, not a corporation or organization, at the personal residence of that individual or his family or on property or facilities owned by that individual or his family."

"The homeowner has to be a personal friend of the president or first lady and be present during the stay -- otherwise that goes on the form," Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, told the Post. "There’s no excuse not to have it on the form."

"You can’t have the president just going around using people’s houses for free without disclosure. That’s no better than a Supreme Court justice staying on a yacht for free without disclosure," he continued in reference to the allegations against Justice Thomas.

Painter added, "I think whoever is preparing these forms is not focusing. And if it’s intentionally left off, then you get into the [criminal] false statements law … and that could be a felony."

A recurring pattern of non-disclosure

The Post noted that Biden, whether now as president or previously as vice president, has taken multiple prior paid-for trips to all three of the donor-owned vacation homes over the years but appears to have never actually disclosed them on the required annual forms -- which could result in political or even legal trouble for him, according to Painter.

"If you have multiple disclosure lapses, particularly involving the same donor or friend, that’s where you get into a situation where Clarence Thomas has been criticized for," he explained. "Once you might say it is a really careless mistake. You start to get into the second and third times and you start to wonder, 'What the heck is going on here?'"

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