FEC Fines Tabloid Company But Not Trump for Karen McDougal “Hush” Payment

In 2018, Common Cause filed complaints with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging reason to believe that tabloid company American Media, Inc.’s (AMI) August 2016 payment of $150,000 to former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, to buy and bury her story of an affair with Donald J. Trump, was for the purpose of influencing the 2016 election and was coordinated with Donald Trump, his campaign and his attorney and agent Michael Cohen—making it an illegal corporate in-kind contribution to the 2016 Trump campaign. Today, the FEC notified Common Cause that it agreed with our allegation against American Media, Inc. and its chair David Pecker, issuing a fine of $187,500. However, there were not the minimum-required four votes to find violations by former-President Trump and his campaign. We anticipate that the Commission will make documents related to the case available within 30 days, including analysis and recommendations from its nonpartisan Office of General Counsel and any statements of reasons from commissioners discussing their votes in the case.

Statement of Common Cause V.P. for Policy & Litigation Paul S. Ryan

Today’s news of a $187,500 fine for AMI’s knowing and willful violation of campaign finance law is a win for democracy and for Common Cause. But the FEC’s failure to hold former-President Trump and his campaign accountable for this violation lays bare the dysfunction at the FEC. Less than a month ago we learned that GOP Commissioners had similarly blocked enforcement against Trump for the illegal Stormy Daniels hush payment. And the agency has again shown itself incapable of fully enforcing the campaign finance laws passed by Congress.

Michael Cohen went to prison for these violations. AMI has been fined. But the former president has not yet been held accountable. The Department of Justice has until August to prosecute Trump for orchestrating this illegal campaign finance scheme.

While a significant fine was levied against AMI, it would have been hard for the FEC to ignore after the corporation’s president admitted the violations to the FBI and became a cooperating witness in the investigation of former-President Trump and his campaign for this and other campaign finance violations.

Our nation’s campaign finance laws are vital to maintain public confidence in our elections and our politicians. These laws are essential to keep our democracy off the auction block. And they must be enforced. It is imperative that the Senate pass the For the People Act, which includes provisions to significantly restructure the FEC so it can do its job for the American people and enforce the laws on the books.

To read the FEC’s notice issued today, click here.

To read Common Cause’s original DOJ and FEC complaints, click here.