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Common Cause Complains to FEC, DOJ About Trump-Related 'Catch & Kill' Payment

Common Cause has filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission and the Department of Justice against President Donald Trump and others over payments to American Media that the group said do not fall under a "press" exemption.

Common Cause said in the complaint that an August 2016 payment by American Media, owner of National Enquirer and US Weekly, among other publications, to former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal to buy and bury her story about an alleged affair with Donald Trump constituted an illegal corporate in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign coordinated with Trump's attorney.

McDougal's attorney also represented Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress who also allegedly alleged -- she was paid not to talk about it -- an affair with Trump.

“Off-the-books hush money payments may be common in New York gossip tabloid circles," said Paul S. Ryan, Common Cause VP for policy and litigation, in a statement, "but when those payments are for the purpose of influencing a presidential campaign, corporate money is off-limits [and] the law requires disclosure. The payment had nothing to do with journalism — and thus cannot qualify for any sort of ‘press’ exemption. This payment was made to buy the silence of Karen MacDougal.”

FEC campaign finance restrictions don't apply to the cost of producing news, saying specifically: "The term 'expenditure' does not include...any news story, 25 commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, unless such facilities are owned or controlled by any political party, political committee, or candidate."

That is the exemption form the definition of “expenditure” that the FEC in 2010 said applied to conservative group Citizen’s United and the cost of its documentaries.

Common Cause argued that the payment to McDougal was not for the distribution of a news story or commentary or editorial (arguably it was for the non-distribution), was not a "legitimate" press function, and was not covered by the "so-called 'press exemption" from an expenditure that has to be reported.