Trump Said He Won’t Take a Salary. Can He Do That?

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By Jon Steingart

Nov. 14 — He said it on the campaign trail. He said it in his first interview after winning the election.

“I’m not gonna take the salary,” President-elect Donald Trump told “60 Minutes” Nov. 13. “I think I have to by law take $1, so I’ll take $1 a year.”

Presidential historian Mike Purdy questioned Trump’s plan. “I’m not sure whether that even is OK,” said Purdy, who writes at and is working on a forthcoming book about past presidents. Purdy donated to Hillary Clinton’s campaign but didn’t otherwise participate in her run.

“The language of the Constitution says the president shall receive compensation,” Purdy told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 14. Only two presidents, Herbert Hoover and John F. Kennedy, refused to accept their paychecks. They donated their salaries to charity, Purdy said.

The U.S. Code says $400,000 per year is the amount the “President shall receive in full for his services.” Courts interpret the term “shall” in laws to indicate an event that must occur.

“Is it a violation of that law—that act of Congress, and coupled with the Constitution—that says you shall receive $400,000?” Purdy said. “My initial sense would be to say that he would be required to receive the full compensation that was required by Congress,” he said.

Not Your Typical Employee

Separate from the rules for presidential pay, the Fair Labor Standards Act requires a minimum hourly wage for most employees. “I don’t think the president falls within the definition of an employee” in the law, “so I doubt that the FLSA applies here,” Jason Barsanti, an attorney who represents employers in wage-and-hour matters as a member in Cozen O’Connor’s San Diego office, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 14.

The FLSA exempts highly compensated employees from its overtime and minimum wage requirements if their position involves executive duties. It’s likely the head of the government’s executive branch would qualify for the exemption.

If the president is forced by the other provisions to take a salary, Barsanti said, “the notion of requiring a billionaire to take money he doesn’t want seems like just the kind of overreaching regulation against which Trump campaigned and that got him elected in the first place.” Trump is worth $3 billion, according to Bloomberg data Nov. 14.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at; Terence Hyland at

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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