Last year, then-Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump declared he would forego a presidential salary if elected.
“I won’t take even one dollar. I’m totally giving up my salary if I become president,” Trump said in a video posted to his Twitter account.
Most recently the president-elect told “60 Minutes” that he would take a $1 salary because the law required him to.
According to Title 3 of the US Code, the US President “shall earn” a salary of$400,000, along with a $50,000 annual expense account, a $100,000 nontaxable travel account, and $19,000 for entertainment.
Like most employees, the president receives benefits in addition to a salary. Unlike most employees, though, these benefits include free transportation in the presidential limousine, Marine One, and Air Force One and free housing in the White House.
Another bonus: At the end of their terms, presidents are still on government payroll, which includes an annual pension of about $200,000, healthcare, paid official travel, and an office.
But, as even the first president, George Washington, learned the hard way, you can’t completely forgo a salary if you’re the leader of the free world.
Washington earned $25,000 a year when he came into office in 1789. That may not sound like much, but to put Washington’s compensation into perspective, $25,000 in 1913 – the oldest year the inflation calculator accounts for – is equivalent to about $600,000 today.
As Time recently reported, Washington didn’t want to take a salary either.
“I must decline as inapplicable to myself, any share in the personal emoluments, which may be indispensably included in a permanent provision for the Executive Department;” he said during his inaugural address, “and must accordingly pray that the pecuniary estimates for the Station in which I am placed, may, during my continuance in it, be limited to such actual expenditures as the public good may be thought to require.”
But the lawmakers at the time wouldn’t hear of it, saying that the constitution required Washington to receive compensation, as not taking a salary would open the president up to bribery and corruption.
Between 1789 and today, there have been five pay raises for US presidents, the most recent one coming in 2001, when Congress doubled the presidential salary from $200,000 to $400,000.
That salary alone is nearly enough to put the president in the top 1% of earners.
Kathleen Elkins contributed to an earlier version of this article.