UPDATED (11:00 a.m. ET): Updated to reflect Linda Bean’s ownership of the restaurant.
On Thursday morning, President-elect Donald Trump once again tried to influence the fortunes of a business company with a tweet, but went about it in a weird way that wades into murky ethical waters.
Trump’s tweet thanked Linda Bean, a member of the board of directors at retailer L.L. Bean, by name, but then included the handle of Linda Bean’s Maine-based lobster restaurant (but, interestingly, not L.L. Bean’s company Twitter handle).
Linda Bean — the human, not the lobster restaurant — is the granddaughter of Leon Leonwood Bean, L.L. Bean’s founder, and donated $60,000 to Trump’s PAC, incurring the wrath of the group Grab Your Wallet.
Grab Your Wallet maintains an extensive list of shops and companies connected to Trump that it urges shoppers to boycott, instead steering them toward other retailers. The group quickly added L.L. Bean to the list.
In response to the boycott, L.L. Bean released a statement last week pointing out that Linda Bean was only one of dozens of family members involved in the company and that her political stance did not represent the views of the company: “L.L.Bean does not endorse political candidates, take positions on political matters, or make political contributions.”
But the GYW group isn’t backing down, insisting it will continue the boycott unless Linda Bean steps down. GYW co-founder Shannon Coulter told the Portland, Maine newspaper the Portland Press Herald, “If Linda’s removal from the board were to go forward, I would most likely remove L.L. Bean from the boycott list.”
As for Trump, he’s clearly grown to enjoy the power of his tweets and how they affect the business of the companies he either praises or decries. He’s previously tweeted about Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Motors, Toyota, and the AT&T-Time Warner merger.
It’s become such a phenomenon that there’s even an app for alerts when Trump tweets about a company.
What sets this example apart from previous incidents, aside from the whole “tweeting the wrong company” thing, is that Trump was essentially endorsing a company after someone from that business gave him money, a highly unusual — and some say unethical — move.
This new controversy also comes at a time when Trump is still coming under heavy criticism for how he’s choosing to handle his own businesses as he prepares to enter the White House. At Wednesday’s highly contentious press conference, Trump said he’d give up leadership of his business to his sons, but refused to create a blind trust, generating heaps of criticism over the potential for conflicts of interest in his presidency.
And, now, by tweeting Linda Bean’s restaurant instead of just using her name, he’s influenced two of her business. By mid-afternoon, the restaurant’s account had more than doubled its followers (though still stood at only around 3,200).
However, given Trump’s extensive history of commercial endorsements, there’s probably nothing to be surprised about anymore. Here’s to the first White House endorsement of stuffed-crust pizza.