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Trump International tee markers with presidential seal may be illegal (UPDATED: Tee markers have been removed)

March 06, 2018

Donald Trump owned his collection of golf courses around the world long before he became the 45th President of the United States. But now that he inhabits the White House it seems at least one of those properties is planning to use the presidential seal on its tee markers. There's just one -- and potentially, big -- problem: It may be illegal.

According to a report by ProPublica and WNYC, Eagle Sign and Design made dozens of the tee markers for a "Trump International" customer. The company, which says it has done work for Trump's properties in the past, showed a photo of the markers that have 12-inch replicas of the seal on its Facebook page before removing it. But ProPublica received this image of them from a source:


According to ProPublica, "A law governs the manufacture or use of the seal, its likeness, 'or any facsimile thereof' for anything other than official U.S. government business. It can be a criminal offense punishable by up to six months in prison."

The “law is an expression of the idea that the government and government authority should not be used for private purpose,” Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University specializing in government and legal ethics, told ProPublica. “It would be a misuse of government authority.”

However, the website notes that former presidents have used the seal privately, including George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who put the seal on their golf balls. And Bloomberg's Steven L. Carter argues the law, Section 713 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, "actually bars very little."

According to Carter, the use of the seal is only prohibited if it confuses consumers, something he says is impossible at a golf course that already bears Trump's name. "We can call the gimmick uncouth or silly or déclassé," Carter writes, "but none of those things are illegal."

Regardless, whichever course ordered these might want to keep them in the clubhouse for the time being to make sure.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, one day after the initial report questioning the legality of the tee markers, ABC News reported the Trump Organization said it had ordered their removal, although it did not specify from which golf course.

“The plaques were presented to the club by a small group of members, who are incredible fans of the President, in honor of Presidents Day weekend. They were temporary and have since been removed,” a Trump Organization spokesperson said in a statement.