President Donald Trump didn’t break any campaign finance laws if he directed former personal lawyer Michael Cohen to pay off two women alleging affairs with him — but 2016 Democratic president nominee Hillary Clinton did break campaign finance laws.
That’s according to former Clinton pollster Mark Penn.
“Contrast what is going on here with the treatment of the millions of dollars paid to a Democratic law firm which, in turn, paid out money to political research firm Fusion GPS and British ex-spy Christopher Steele without listing them on any campaign expenditure form — despite crystal-clear laws and regulations that the ultimate beneficiaries of the funds must be listed,” Penn, who worked for both Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton, wrote in an op-ed in The Hill.
“There is no question that hiring spies to do opposition research in Russia is a campaign expenditure, and yet, no prosecutorial raids have been sprung on the law firm, Fusion GPS or Steele. “
Reason: It does not ‘get’ Trump,” Penn argued in his piece.
The FBI used the anti-Trump dossier alleging Russian collusion that Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) funded to renew surveillance warrants against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
Although Cohen was Trump’s personal lawyer during the 2016 presidential campaign, he has since turned on the president.
He entered into a plea deal with federal prosecutors announced Tuesday on eight felony counts — two of which concerned alleged campaign finance law violations.
Cohen pleaded guilty to facilitating hush money payments to two women alleging affairs with Trump — Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.
Cohen claimed that he did so with the “coordination and the direction of a candidate for federal office.”
The unnamed “candidate” presumably is Donald Trump.
But Penn argued that Trump did not violate any federal election laws for reportedly reimbursing Cohen.
“Donald Trump should do a better job of picking aides who pay their taxes — but he’s not responsible for their financial problems and crimes,” Penn wrote.
“Paying for nondisclosure agreements for perfectly legal activities is not a crime, not a campaign contribution as commonly understood or ruled upon by the FEC [Federal Election Commission] — and squeezing guilty pleas out of vulnerable witnesses does not change those facts,” Penn added.
What the video below on the issue:
What Penn spoke of is when Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign transferred nearly $150,000 of leftover campaign funds to a company she solely owns in the months following her election defeat, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
The Clinton campaign has paid $149,457 to ZFS Holdings LLC, since May 2017 for the purpose of “rent,” FEC filings show, but the campaign has left it unclear if it’s paying at, above or below fair market value for the office space it’s renting.
Also, the rent payments to ZFS were sent to the same address as Rorrie Gregorio, Clinton’s personal financial manager.
“Obviously, it has a certain fishiness to it,” former FEC chairman and founder of the Institute for Free Speech Brad Smith told The Daily Caller News Foundation about the rent payments.
If ZFS is undercharging the Clinton campaign for rent, it could “constitute something of value to the committee and would thus be an in-kind contribution,” according to a 1995 FEC ruling. But if ZFS is overcharging the campaign, it could mean campaign funds are going to the company Clinton solely owns.
Using campaign funds for personal use is a violation of federal campaign law. According to Campaigns and Elections, “knowing and willful” violations of the personal use rule can result in prosecution and jail time.
Clinton registered ZFS as a single-member LLC shortly after she left the Department of State in early 2013 for the purpose of managing her speech and book income, according to financial disclosures she filed with the FEC.
We're launching Onward Together to encourage people to get involved, organize, and even run for office. https://t.co/8exooosvZ5
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) May 15, 2017
But none of that casts a shadow on a more serious case of apparent misconduct involves Facebook data going to a different presidential campaign – this time in 2012. In this case, which is getting far less attention, Facebook reportedly voluntarily provided data on millions of its users to the re-election campaign of President Obama.
If true, such action by Facebook may constitute a major violation of federal campaign finance law as an illegal corporate campaign contribution. The matter should be investigated by the Federal Election Commission – an agency I am quite familiar with, because I served as one of its commissioners from 2006 to 2007. The commission enforces campaign finance laws for congressional and presidential elections.
A federal law bans corporations from making “direct or indirect” contributions to federal candidates. That ban extends beyond cash contributions to “any services, or anything of value.” In other words, corporations cannot provide federal candidates with free services of any kind. Under the Federal Election Commission’s regulations, “anything of value” includes any “in-kind contribution.”
For example, if a corporation decided to offer a presidential candidate free office space, that would violate federal law. Corporations can certainly offer their services, including office space, to federal campaigns. But the campaigns are required to pay the fair market value for such services or rental properties.
According to Carol Davidsen, the former media director for Obama for America, Facebook gave the 2012 Obama campaign direct access to the personal data of Facebook users in violation of its internal rules, making a special exception for the campaign.
The Daily Mail, a British newspaper, reported that Davidsen said on Twitter March 18 that Facebook employees came to the campaign office and “were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.”
The type of data that the Obama campaign was mining from Facebook is a more sophisticated version of the type of data that has long been provided by professional direct mail marketers – something pioneered by Richard Viguerie. Viguerie, for example, has detailed personal data on “12 million conservative donors and activists” to whom his company sends letters and emails on behalf of his clients. He provides information to campaigns looking for votes and money, and to nonprofit and advocacy organizations raising funds.
Political campaigns must pay for these services. Under a Federal Election Commission regulation, giving a mailing list or something similar to a campaign is considered an “in-kind contribution.”
So if Facebook gave the Obama campaign free access to this type of data when it normally does not do so for other entities – or usually charges for such access – then Facebook would appear to have violated the federal ban on in-kind contributions by a corporation. And the Obama campaign may have violated the law by accepting such a corporate contribution.
What about the story currently in the news about Cambridge Analytica using Facebook data for the Trump campaign? The important legal distinction may be in the way the data were obtained. Fox News reported that the Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica to do political research on voters and reportedly to “help the campaign target specific voters with ads and stories.”
The real controversy now involving the Trump campaign deals with exactly how Cambridge Analytica obtained the data it used for the campaign. A CNBC report says that Cambridge Analytica bought the data from Aleksandr Kogan and his company, Global Science Research, which obtained the data through an app and a psychological test taken by Facebook users.
The amounts paid by the Trump campaign to Cambridge Analytica for its services – and the use of the Facebook data – are listed in its spending reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. This proves that the Trump campaign paid for services in the same way that campaigns routinely hire and pay direct mail marketers. So the Trump campaign did not get an illegal corporate contribution from Cambridge Analytica or Facebook when it received free access to very valuable data.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
August 22nd, 2018