Trump has not violated campaign finance laws, and here's why

The media are in a frenzy louder than feeding time at the zoo over the guilty pleas by Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager, and Michael Cohen, Trump's (former) personal lawyer.  Manafort's plea was unrelated to Trump.  Cohen pleaded to tax evasion (also unrelated to Trump), but also two counts of working with Trump to violate campaign finance laws.

As an attorney, I can tell you, pretty definitively, that Trump has violated no campaign laws.

Cohen's plea deal states that Cohen violated campaign finance laws by making payments to one of Trump's alleged mistresses, "Stormy Daniels," and made payments to the National Enquirer to compensate the Enquirer for paying off another of Trump's alleged mistresses.  Cohen, in turn, was reimbursed by Trump for these expenses, so Trump was the ultimate source of the money for these payments.


Michael Cohen (photo credit: Iowapolitics.com via Flickr).

The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, Title 52, United States Code Section 30101 states in part that individuals are limited to making donations of $2,700 to presidential candidates.  Cohen is accused of spending money in violation of the act.  Although Cohen spent more than $2,700 on behalf of Trump, he was reimbursed by Trump, so Trump was ultimately spending money on himself, and there is no limit on how much a person may spend on his own presidential campaign, so this section does not apply.

The Campaign Act also prohibits corporations from contributing directly to presidential campaigns.  Cohen set up dummy corporations to make the payments and pleaded to making improper corporate donations.  But again, although the money technically came from corporations, ultimately, all the money came from Donald Trump, so again these limitations do not apply.

More importantly, this was not a campaign expenditure at all.  Constitutional scholar Mark Levin has interviewed former Federal Election Commission chairman Bradley Smith repeatedly on his show over the past year, and Smith has made the point that "dual use" expenditures are not "campaign expenditures" under the meaning of the act.

What are campaign expenditures?  Payments for advertising, consultants, rallies, transportation, polling, and get-out-the-vote efforts, of course.  But has anyone ever reported payments to a mistress as a campaign expenditure?  Almost certainly not.

That's because any expenditure is not an expenditure simply because it may incidentally benefit a campaign.  It must be an expenditure whose only purpose is to benefit a campaign.  So if a candidate for office buys an American car, or gets his teeth whitened, these are things that can benefit his campaign, but they are not campaign expenditures because they also have personal benefits.

Payments to President Trump's alleged mistresses to stay silent certainly benefited his campaign.  But they also served the purpose of not embarrassing the president's family.  There clearly was a dual use to the payments, therefore they were not "campaign expenditures" under the act.  If they were, then everything a candidate spent money on during the course of a campaign, whether of a personal nature or not, would have to be reported as a campaign expenditure.  Does a candidate eat during a campaign?  Well, if so, that benefits his campaign and so must be an expenditure!  Do you see how ridiculous this can become?

If these payments were not campaign expenditures, then there is no violation.  But Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign expenditure laws.  Although no plea deal was announced, it looks as though Cohen has flipped and pleaded guilty to these counts to avoid even more charges.  But just because Cohen claims he, and Trump, violated campaign finance laws, that is not the same as a legal determination that he did so.

As Mark Levin pointed out on his show yesterday, a guilty plea is not an adjudication of a court.  No court has ever ruled that hush payments to mistresses are a campaign expenditure.  Michael Cohen was simply squeezed to get the results Robert Mueller wanted, to give grounds to impeach President Trump.

Mueller was supposed to be investigating the claims of Trump colluding with Russia.  These guilty pleas, while notable for non-campaign finance reasons, have nothing to do with Russia and nothing to do with Donald Trump.  But it seems clear that the road to impeachment goes through campaign finance laws.

Even if Donald Trump allegedly funneled hush payments through his lawyer, and through a dummy corporation, they were still payments ultimately from him, and had nothing to do with campaign finance laws.

While the president's personal behavior is as un-admirable as ever, even worse is sitting back silently while the media wage lawfare against the president and Nancy Pelosi rams through articles of impeachment in 2019 because everyone accepts this false narrative.

Ed Straker is the senior editor of the Newsmachete Twitter Feed.

The media are in a frenzy louder than feeding time at the zoo over the guilty pleas by Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager, and Michael Cohen, Trump's (former) personal lawyer.  Manafort's plea was unrelated to Trump.  Cohen pleaded to tax evasion (also unrelated to Trump), but also two counts of working with Trump to violate campaign finance laws.

As an attorney, I can tell you, pretty definitively, that Trump has violated no campaign laws.

Cohen's plea deal states that Cohen violated campaign finance laws by making payments to one of Trump's alleged mistresses, "Stormy Daniels," and made payments to the National Enquirer to compensate the Enquirer for paying off another of Trump's alleged mistresses.  Cohen, in turn, was reimbursed by Trump for these expenses, so Trump was the ultimate source of the money for these payments.


Michael Cohen (photo credit: Iowapolitics.com via Flickr).

The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, Title 52, United States Code Section 30101 states in part that individuals are limited to making donations of $2,700 to presidential candidates.  Cohen is accused of spending money in violation of the act.  Although Cohen spent more than $2,700 on behalf of Trump, he was reimbursed by Trump, so Trump was ultimately spending money on himself, and there is no limit on how much a person may spend on his own presidential campaign, so this section does not apply.

The Campaign Act also prohibits corporations from contributing directly to presidential campaigns.  Cohen set up dummy corporations to make the payments and pleaded to making improper corporate donations.  But again, although the money technically came from corporations, ultimately, all the money came from Donald Trump, so again these limitations do not apply.

More importantly, this was not a campaign expenditure at all.  Constitutional scholar Mark Levin has interviewed former Federal Election Commission chairman Bradley Smith repeatedly on his show over the past year, and Smith has made the point that "dual use" expenditures are not "campaign expenditures" under the meaning of the act.

What are campaign expenditures?  Payments for advertising, consultants, rallies, transportation, polling, and get-out-the-vote efforts, of course.  But has anyone ever reported payments to a mistress as a campaign expenditure?  Almost certainly not.

That's because any expenditure is not an expenditure simply because it may incidentally benefit a campaign.  It must be an expenditure whose only purpose is to benefit a campaign.  So if a candidate for office buys an American car, or gets his teeth whitened, these are things that can benefit his campaign, but they are not campaign expenditures because they also have personal benefits.

Payments to President Trump's alleged mistresses to stay silent certainly benefited his campaign.  But they also served the purpose of not embarrassing the president's family.  There clearly was a dual use to the payments, therefore they were not "campaign expenditures" under the act.  If they were, then everything a candidate spent money on during the course of a campaign, whether of a personal nature or not, would have to be reported as a campaign expenditure.  Does a candidate eat during a campaign?  Well, if so, that benefits his campaign and so must be an expenditure!  Do you see how ridiculous this can become?

If these payments were not campaign expenditures, then there is no violation.  But Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign expenditure laws.  Although no plea deal was announced, it looks as though Cohen has flipped and pleaded guilty to these counts to avoid even more charges.  But just because Cohen claims he, and Trump, violated campaign finance laws, that is not the same as a legal determination that he did so.

As Mark Levin pointed out on his show yesterday, a guilty plea is not an adjudication of a court.  No court has ever ruled that hush payments to mistresses are a campaign expenditure.  Michael Cohen was simply squeezed to get the results Robert Mueller wanted, to give grounds to impeach President Trump.

Mueller was supposed to be investigating the claims of Trump colluding with Russia.  These guilty pleas, while notable for non-campaign finance reasons, have nothing to do with Russia and nothing to do with Donald Trump.  But it seems clear that the road to impeachment goes through campaign finance laws.

Even if Donald Trump allegedly funneled hush payments through his lawyer, and through a dummy corporation, they were still payments ultimately from him, and had nothing to do with campaign finance laws.

While the president's personal behavior is as un-admirable as ever, even worse is sitting back silently while the media wage lawfare against the president and Nancy Pelosi rams through articles of impeachment in 2019 because everyone accepts this false narrative.

Ed Straker is the senior editor of the Newsmachete Twitter Feed.