Trump’s $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, made in October of 2016, was probably a crime under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). Under FECA, corporations are flatly prohibited from making contributions of any sort, including in-kind contributions, to candidates and candidate committees. The payment to Daniels likely came from The Trump Organization, a privately held corporation, as it was reportedly arranged by Michael Cohen, a lawyer and Executive Vice President of Trump Organization. Because the payment came near the end of Trump campaign, and was made to aid the campaign by purchasing the silence of Daniels, it amounted to an in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign. According to the Federal Election Commission, “when a person pays for services on the committee’s behalf, the payment is an in-kind contribution. An expenditure made by any person in cooperation, consultation or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate’s campaign is also considered an in-kind contribution to the candidate.” By paying off Daniels for the Trump campaign, Trump, The Trump Organization and Cohen likely committed federal crimes.
The payoff to Daniels also likely violated FECA’s contribution limits. Under FECA, contributions to candidates and their committees are subject to the limit of $2,700 per election. $130,000 is about 48 times $2,700. The value of Cohen’s legal services, as a fixer, also undoubtedly exceeded $2,700.
Since the payoff was illegal and done in secret, we can safely assume that it was not reported by Trump in required public disclosures to the Federal Election Commission. Failing to the comply with the disclosure requirements under these circumstances is also a federal crime.
Violations of FECA, if committed knowingly and intentionally, are a federal crime if they aggregate to more than $2,000 in any one year. When a lawyer, such as Cohen, is involved in the transaction, and the candidate is running for President, it is very likely a knowing and intentional violation. Trump has been prosecuted for campaign finance violations in the past, and he knows the law quite well. Where contributions have an aggregate value of over $25,000, as is the case with Daniel’s payoff, each violation is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in the federal prison.
As there were several individuals involved in these activities, undoubtedly including Trump, there was almost certainly a conspiracy to violate FECA. Conspiracies to violate federal criminal laws a subject to additional prison sentences and are chargeable as separate crimes.
I am presently gathering information about this incident with an eye toward requesting the Department of Justice to prosecute the case criminally. I am also conducting an investigation in preparation for filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission.