In January 2018, the Wall Street Journal broke the story that Michael Cohen, who was President Trump’s personal lawyer, top lawyer at the Trump Organization and self-described Trump “fix-it guy” back in 2016, had set up a shell company in Delaware (Essential Consultants LLC) in October 2016 and arranged a $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels through that shell company right before the November 2016 presidential election. Ms Daniels had earlier alleged that she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 and in the Fall of 2016 was in talks with one or more national media outlets to go on the record with her story.

On January 22, 2018, Common Cause filed a complaint with the Department of Justice and a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging reason to believe that the payment of $130,000 from Essential Consultants LLC to Ms. Daniels was an unreported and illegal in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign because the payment was for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential general election and was made in coordination with the campaign via Trump’s lawyer, Michael 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, based on public statements by Micheal Cohen claiming he was the source of the funds he paid to Ms. Daniels, Common Cause amended its Department of Justice complaint and Federal Election Commission complaint to allege an illegally large in-kind contribution from Cohen to the Trump campaign.