Five years after Common Cause filed complaints against President Donald Trump for violating federal campaign finance law with hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, a Manhattan grand jury has indicted him.
Common Cause alleged in complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging that a $130,000 payment from Trump’s personal lawyer to Stormy Daniels broke campaign finance law.
In January 2018, the Wall Street Journal broke the story that Michael Cohen – who was Trump’s personal lawyer and a self-described Trump “fix-it guy” in 2016 – had set up a shell company in Delaware (Essential Consultants LLC) back in October 2016.
He then arranged a $130,000 payment to Daniels through that shell company right before the November 2016 presidential election.
Daniels had earlier alleged that she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. In the fall of 2016, she was in talks with one or more national media outlets to go on the record with her story.
On January 22, 2018, Common Cause became the first organization to file a complaint with the DOJ and a complaint with the FEC alleging that the payment of $130,000 from Essential Consultants LLC to Daniels was an unreported and illegal in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign.
According to the complaints, the payment was:
- For the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential general election.
- Made in coordination with the campaign via Trump’s lawyer, Cohen.
At that time, the source of the $130,000 was unknown – and Common Cause named both the Trump Organization and “John Doe” as possible sources.
In March 2018, however, based on public statements by Cohen claiming that he paid the funds to Daniels, Common Cause amended its complaints to allege an illegally large in-kind contribution from Cohen to the Trump campaign.
It’s clear the money was paid because the Trump team feared that the emergence of her story just before the 2016 election would torpedo Trump’s chance of becoming president.
That makes the payment a campaign contribution – and the Trump campaign’s failure to disclose it to the Federal Election Commission illegal.
And if the money came from Trump’s lawyer, as Cohen claims, it exceeded the legal limit for campaign gifts by more than $127,000.
Read the complaints against Trump
DOJ Complaint, Amended Mar. 2018
FEC Complaint, Amended Mar. 2018
“We deserve a democracy where candidates for office – and especially candidates for president – are held to the highest ethical standards. Looking the other way and letting Trump and his associates get away with an alleged violation of campaign finance law would set a dangerous precedent,” said Martha Tierney, chair of Common Cause.
“In a social media post on March 18, 2023, Trump told his followers that he expected to be arrested as part of the Manhattan District Attorney’s investigation into the payment to Stormy Daniels,” said Tierney. “He called on his supporters to protest in response – and even urged them to ‘take our nation back.’ We cannot let Trump intimidate his way out of accountability and blatantly subvert the rule of law.”
“This and every investigation into his conduct – including his actions surrounding the January 6th insurrection and his attempts to change 2020 election results in Georgia – must proceed unobstructed,” said Tierney.
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