Legally Weird - The FindLaw Legal Curiosities Blog

Can FLOTUS Legally Market a Brand?

After First Lady of the United States, Melania Trump, filed her $150 million defamation lawsuit against the Mail Online, legal commentators were shocked by the language used to describe Mrs. Trump's financial damages. In short, a plain reading of Mrs. Trump's lawsuit leaves a reader with the impression that Mrs. Trump has plans to profit by using her new-found elevated position in society.

While Trump's attorney asserts that Melanie Trump has no intention of profiting from her position as First Lady, business filings, though unimpressive, seem to belie this fact. However, there is no specific law that prevents a First Lady from profiting while in office, assuming she does not leverage the power of her presidential spouse (which could raise concerns of nepotism).

So, a First Lady Can Profit?

Traditionally, the First Lady gives up working when the opportunity to serve the nation presents itself. Michelle Obama gave up a $200,000+ per year job to become the First Lady, and Hilary Clinton gave up her lucrative partnership position at her law firm when Bill Clinton took office. But many might be shocked to learn that there is no law prohibiting the FLOTUS from engaging in business.

So long as the business is wholly under her control and not jointly managed by her and her presidential husband, no governmental resources are expended on running the business, and her presidential husband does not engage in any marketing efforts on FLOTUS's business's behalf, it is not likely that any laws will be violated. Although some might be upset by this seemingly, or potentially, misogynistic loophole in the law, consider the alternative: the FLOTUS is not paid for serving the country, and is generally kept incredibly busy with official White House and governmental duties.

Melania Trump as a Brand

Although Melania had been marketing herself as a lifestyle brand before becoming FLOTUS, continuing to do so while holding the ceremonial position could lead to trouble down the road, not to mention public backlash and outrage. Maintaining a strict separation between her separate businesses and her and her husband's governmental positions will be incredibly challenging. Despite the fact that Mrs. Trump still has active business filings, her jewelry line is no longer available on QVC, and it appears that she learned her lesson about promoting herself using government resources in January.

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