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We have discussed shill bidding many times. We’ve never, however, discussed the President of the United States and shill bidding at the same time — until now. Our background on this story comes from Vox.

Apparently President Trump asked his longtime lawyer Michael Cohen to secure a fake bidder to purchase a painting of the President and ensure it went for a record price. The complete story is here: https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/2/27/18243241/michael-cohen-testimony-art-auction-trump-portrait.

Why would the President (or anyone) do such a thing? Outside of bragging rights (noted in a Presidential tweet: “Just found out at a charity auction of celebrity portraits in E. Hampton, my portrait by artist William Quigley topped list at $60K”) there are other possible reasons.

Generally, who benefits beyond bragging rights? The buyer(s) and the sellers might benefit as this sets up other possible artwork to sell for like amounts in the marketplace. However, there is harm in such behavior. For instance, other bidders are denied a true opportunity to purchase and/or making other purchases based upon this “not really” display of market value.

Those unfamiliar with shill bidding can read about the basics here: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2010/11/25/what-is-shill-bidding which is bidding without the genuine intent to purchase and/or to falsely advocating and enticing other bidders to bid under false pretenses.

Shill bidding is a crime in itself and there are state and federal laws which provide penalties for such actions. Worse yet, the President [facilitating] shill bidding puts the topic of shill bidding on the national stage and for all to see — suggesting to some that auctions can’t be trusted, and possibly encouraging others to shill bid citing that if the president can do it, why can’t they?

Lastly, this testimony concerning the President directing someone to shill bid for him to buy his own portrait (through his own charity organization) was provided by Michael Cohen who has been previously convicted of providing false testimony — so this might also be false testimony — or it might not, and it probably really doesn’t matter which.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, CAS, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, RES Auction Services and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and America’s Auction Academy. He is faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by the The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.