National Enquirer Publisher Fined Over Payment for Trump Story


The Federal Election Commission has fined a tabloid publisher that paid $150,000 in 2016 to a woman who claimed she had an affair with Donald Trump for making an illegal campaign contribution, according to Common Cause, which filed the complaint in the case.

The former president’s campaign will not be penalized.

A360 Media LLC, the successor to National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc., will pay a $187,500 fine for using prohibited corporate funds in an effort to influence a federal election. The payments were made to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, to purchase the rights to her story, which American Media never published.

The company has agreed to the fine, according to documents filed in the case.

The FEC commissioners could not reach a majority on the question of whether Trump or his campaign broke the law. A four-vote majority of the six commissioners, no more than three of whom can come from the same party, is necessary for the commission to find a violation of campaign laws.

“The FEC’s failure to hold former President Trump and his campaign accountable for this violation lays bare the dysfunction at the FEC,” Paul S. Ryan, the vice president for policy and litigation at Common Cause, said in a statement.

Common Cause was notified Tuesday of the FEC’s decision. The agency has 30 days to post documents in the case.

Though the FEC levied no penalty against Trump or his campaign, the matter may still be under review by the Justice Department. Documents from the FEC released by Common Cause say that American Media entered into an agreement with the Justice Department to avoid prosecution over the payment made to McDougal.

As part of that agreement, American Media admitted that it paid McDougal to ensure she didn’t publicize her allegations in order to influence the 2016 presidential election. David Pecker, then the publisher of American Media, helped negotiate the deal.

In 2016, the maximum contribution to a campaign was capped at $2,700 per election. Corporations are barred from giving to campaigns under federal law. Common Cause argued in its complaint, filed in 2018, that the payout to McDougal broke campaign finance laws.

A spokesman for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A360 Media did not immediately respond to a message left after regular business hours on Tuesday.

In February, the FEC also failed to reach a majority in determining whether Trump’s campaign had violated campaign finance law in connection with a $130,000 payment that Michael Cohen, the former president’s personal attorney and fixer, made in October 2016 to Stephanie Clifford, who performed in adult films under the name of Stormy Daniels. That deadlock similarly resulted in no fines for Trump’s campaign.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to violating campaign finance laws in connection with the payment to Clifford as well as to other, unrelated charges, including tax evasion and lying to Congress.

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