Donald Trump announced on Friday that he would donate his quarterly $100,000 presidential paycheck to the National Park Service to restore national monuments.
He tweeted that he was donating the money to “help repair and restore our GREAT National Monuments. So important to our American history!”
It comes as the president focuses on a “law and order” rhetoric to fire up his re-election campaign amid trailing poll numbers.
In a divisive Fourth of July speech, held at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, the president assailed “left-wing mobs” who aim to “tear down statues of our founders … and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities”.
Monuments that were built for prominent slaveholders and Confederates were targeted during Black Lives Matter demonstrations against police brutality that have spread around the country this summer in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody on Memorial Day.
In June, Mr Trump issued an executive order promising 10-year prison sentences for vandalism of federal buildings, monuments and statues. The Department of Homeland Security also authorised agents to collect personal information from protesters allegedly threatening statues and federal property.
Mr Trump has kept his 2016 campaign promise and donated his salary to a different government agency each quarter. He is not the first to do so: John F Kennedy and Herbert Hoover donated their entire earnings while serving in the White House. Barack Obama donated more than $1 million to charitable causes while in office.
But in a break from presidential precedent, Mr Trump has refused to divest from his business interests and has been amounting a vast fortune while president. Several lawsuits have accused the president of violating the US Constitution, which prohibits the president from receiving payments from foreign and domestic governments.
Mr Trump made $446m last year and $434m in 2018, according recently released financial disclosure documents from the Office of Government Ethics.
Financial disclosures also revealed that the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who also hold White House positions, earned at least $36m last year.
Government watchdogs argue that the annual financial disclosures, required by federal ethics laws, offer only a “narrow and opaque window” into the finances of the president and his family.
“While the form shows hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, it provides no information about where all that money came from,” according to nonprofit organisation Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
“President Trump’s refusal to divest from his business empire created a situation where special interests, foreign governments, and others are trying to curry favour with his administration by patronizing and spending more at his properties,” the organisation said. “Trump’s stake in these businesses has led him to amass more than 3,200 conflicts of interest since taking office.”
The president also benefits from taxpayer-funded government reimbursements from his Secret Service stays at properties he owns, revealed in an investigation from The Washington Post.
Mr Trump was criticised for his $100,000 donation to the Department of Health and Hospitals in March at the onset of the coronavirus outbreak, despite a White House budget proposal to cut millions of dollars from the agency.
A 2017 check to the National Parks Service from his first weeks in office, which then-press secretary Sean Spicer presented during a White House press briefing, made only a dent the agency’s deferred maintenance budget, according to former interior secretary Ryan Zinke.
Earlier this month, the president signed the Great American Outdoors Act into law, taking credit at a press conference for a sweeping piece of bipartisan legislation to protect lands for public use. The act will provide up to $9.5bn over five years to tackle a maintenance backlog in the national parks.
The law establishes a restoration fund to provide up to $9 billion over the next five years, with most of that money set aside for more than 400 national parks, which have seen flat budgets over the last few decades, creating a backlog for badly needed repairs to roads and other facilities. The law also grants $900 million a year to the Land and Water Conservation Fund through offshore oil and gas royalties from projects in federally owned waters.