Donald Trump Jr. will be paid $100,000 to for a 30-minute speech at the University of North Texas. The contract, signed as his father launches an aggressive effort to remake the tax code, was brokered and bankrolled by a firm that specializes in helping major corporations avoid paying taxes.
Brint Ryan, the chairman and CEO of Ryan LLC, told ThinkProgress that he has “helped secure some speakers” for the Kuehne Speaker Series at the University of North Texas and “Don Trump, Jr. is one of the speakers I helped with.” Ryan LLC is also the “Presenting Sponsor” of the speaker series, meaning that it is the largest financial contributor.
The terms of Trump Jr.’s contract with the university was first reported by North Texas Daily, the student newspaper.
Ryan LLC specializes in reducing taxes for corporations by any means necessary, including lobbying, securing tax incentives, and challenging tax assessments. “Liberating our clients from the burden of being overtaxed, freeing their capital to invest, grow, and thrive,” is the Ryan LLC motto. According to the company website, it represents scores of Fortune 1000 companies, including “81% of the oil and gas, mining, and refining companies that comprise the Fortune 500.”
Ryan LLC boasts that it has “achieved great success helping shape legislative, regulatory, and judicial issues impacting tax matters across North America” by leveraging “well-connected, highly seasoned government affairs professionals.”
Trump Jr. remains in close contact touch with his father and frequently represents him in the media and at political events.
Asked about whether securing a lucrative contract for Trump Jr. just as his father’s administration takes up tax reform could be seen as an effort to curry favor for his clients, Brint Ryan told ThinkProgress that he doesn’t “need to curry favor with anyone on Tax Reform (or anything else for that matter).” Rather, “[a]s a tax practitioner, I’m routinely asked my opinions on tax reform and I freely give them.”
Ryan said that while the fee to Trump Jr. is “more than we have paid in the past” he “couldn’t care less.” He noted that the event was a scholarship fundraiser and he expected “attendance to be much greater than prior lectures.”
Some of those who will be donating money, Ryan acknowledged, will be his company’s corporate tax clients. Those donations, according to the terms of Trump Jr.’s contract, could entitle these companies to a private audience with the president’s son.
The contract requires Trump Jr. to attend “a dinner limited to eight (8) guests for the duration of approximately  minutes.” Trump Jr. is also obligated to attend a “VIP breakfast” for 120 minutes and a “VIP reception” for 70 minutes. A single ticket to the breakfast requires a donation of at least $10,000.
The speaking portion of the engagement, by comparison, is relatively brief. Trump Jr. is scheduled to speak for just 30 minutes, followed by a 30 minute question and answer session. “Questions [will be] provided ahead of time to Mr. Trump,” the contract stipulates.
Brint Ryan is known for his extremely aggressive advocacy on behalf of his clients. His “specialty is helping clients like ExxonMobil and Neiman Marcus secure state and local tax breaks and other business incentives,” particularly in Texas. To succeed, he has “blurred [the line] between decision makers and beneficiaries,” providing formal and informal “advice” to government officials that ultimately benefited his clients. In a 2012 interview with the New York Times, Ryan waived off concerns about a conflict of interest saying “[i]t’s widely known that I represent a lot of taxpayers” and he hoped that his clients would benefit from Texas’ policies.
Brint Ryan has not been shy about greasing the wheels in Texas, becoming “one of the state’s most generous political donors.” Ryan and his company lavished money on favored candidates for Texas’ comptroller, who signs off on corporate tax breaks. Ryan LLC typically receives about 30% of any award as a fee. Ryan personally “is a familiar presence at the state comptroller’s office in Austin.” His approach on behalf of corporate clients, according to one former official interviewed by the New York Times, is a “gloves-off, full-frontal assault.”
More recently, he has turned his attention to national politics, serving as the primary fundraiser for a Super PAC supporting Rick Perry’s failed presidential campaigns. Ryan LLC donated $250,000 to President Trump’s inaugural committee, one of the largest contributions it received. He also personally donated $50,000 to the Republican National Committee last September.
Trump has begun consulting with Ryan on tax issues. During the campaign, he invited Ryan to lunch in Beverly Hills for “advice on tax policy.” Ryan emerged as a vociferous Trump supporter. Following the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape, where Trump brags about committing sexual assault, Ryan said that he continued to support Trump because “I find Hillary Clinton to be at least as morally repugnant if not more.”
Trump Jr.’s speaking contract with University of North Texas, where Ryan also serves as Chairman of the Board of Regents, has been met with some criticism on campus. An editorial in the student paper said “the reactions from students and alumni was overwhelmingly negative.” It criticized the decision to book Trump Jr. “just days after the racially fueled violence in Charlottesville that his father refused to condemn until nearly three days after the incident.”