On January 22, 2018, Common Cause filed complaints with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging that the October 2016 payment of $130,000 to Stephanie Clifford (a.k.a. Stormy Daniels), through an LLC, was an unreported in-kind contribution to President Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign committee in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act. The complaint also asks the agencies to determine whether the payment was made by the Trump Organization or some other corporation or individual, which would additionally make it an illegal in-kind contribution to the campaign. Corporations are prohibited from contributing to federal candidates and individual contributions are limited to $2,700.
The Wall Street Journal broke the story of the payment to Clifford for a nondisclosure agreement related to an affair the adult film star is reported to have had with the President. Essential Consultants LLC was created just weeks before the 2016 general election by Trump attorney Michael Cohen apparently for the sole purpose of hiding the payment for Clifford’s silence.
“The American people expect and deserve transparency when it comes to money spent to influence elections and those requirements are not optional no matter how embarrassing the reason behind the expense,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “Candidates and their attorneys cannot choose how and when to comply with federal campaign finance laws. We strongly urge the Justice Department and the FEC to fully investigate these apparent illegal activities and if appropriate to take action to hold the President and his campaign accountable.”
“These apparent violations are not simple bookkeeping errors, but seemingly a deliberate evasion of the laws on the books to ensure Americans get a full accounting of the money raised and spent by and for candidates for the presidency,” said Paul S. Ryan, Common Cause vice president for policy and litigation. “These actions are just the latest examples of the president, his family, his campaign, and subsequently administration, playing fast and loose with the laws that apply to them. If these laws are not fully enforced, they will be ignored by candidates and administrations going forward to the detriment of our democracy.”