Melania's Surprising Side-Hustle: First Lady Has Made at Least $100k From Photos of Herself
In a bizarre turn of events, Melania Trump is making headlines for her deal-making skills. NBC reported that she has made six figures from a deal with a photo agency while serving as the First Lady.
According to the article published Monday, Trump has been profiting from photos of herself and her family, which were taken between 2010 and 2016 by the photographer Regine Mahaux, who is known for her glamorous, highly stylized portraits of the first family's fancy lifestyle. (You might recognize the one of Barron riding a stuffed lion in their penthouse living room, or another of Melania perched next to a stack of Louis Vuitton trunks while wearing a top hat in her gilded bedroom.) The revelation comes from Donald Trump's most recent financial disclosure, according to NBC.
Here's exactly how the hustle works: The photos are listed with Getty Images, a photo agency. Any time one of the photos is purchased from Getty for use by, say, a news publication, Melania receives a cut, and thus any publication that has posted the photos (assuming they paid for the rights) indirectly paid the Trumps to do so.
Working with specific photographers or agencies is a well-documented practice for celebrities, many of whom may receive a cut of publishing fees or royalties in exchange for a well placed tip (say, what time they'll be heading to Starbucks). As a paparazzo explained to Cosmo, the benefit of a staged paparazzi run-in is two fold: 1) the celeb get a little extra money in the bank and 2) they get to control their own image and guarantee that flattering pic is the one that ends up in the magazines.
However, such deals are uncharted territory when it comes to celebrities currently serving in the White House.
"It's not unheard of for celebrities to earn royalties from photos of themselves," reads the NBC piece, "but it's very unusual for the wife of a currently serving elected official."
According to NBC's analysis of the Trumps's most recent financial disclosure forms, Melania made between $100,000 and $1 million from Getty Images during 2017, the year she officially took up the mantle of First Lady of the United States.
Money aside, there's another issue with the arrangement that's causing concern. According to the report, "Getty's licensing agreement stipulates [the Mahaux] pictures can be used in 'positive stories only.'"
Several news agencies and magazines, including Marie Claire, Russian Elle and the Daily Mail, used the images by Mahaux during 2016 and 2017, though some deny paying for them or agreeing to any kind of "positive stories only" stipulation. A Fox News spokesperson said they received the images gratis from "the Trump campaign and Melania Trump's office, who told us they had full ownership and rights to the photos." Following NBC's inquiries, several other organizations including Yahoo and the San Francisco Chronicle, removed the images from their sites.
The extended Trump family has caught a lot of heat since taking the White House for the questionable ethics of earning money on their various business ventures—from government meetings held at Trump resorts, to Kushner family real estate deals, and the Trump Organization itself, which Ivanka is still making money from.
Many first ladies have launched commercial ventures while serving, but it's common practice for their proceeds to be donated to charity. For example, this was the case when both Laura Bush and Michelle Obama wrote books while residing in the White House. Chalk this up to another complexity of having a celebrity become Commander-in-Chief.