The parent company of the National Enquirer has been fined $187,500 by the Federal Election Commission for “knowingly and willfully” violating election law by making a payment in 2016 to Karen McDougal, the former Playboy model who said she had an affair with former president Donald Trump years before he was elected.
But the six-member commission – which frequently deadlocks along partisan lines – did not have enough votes to make the determination that Trump and his campaign also broke election law, even though the cash that the tabloid used to pay McDougal originated with Trump and was delivered by his former fixer Michael Cohen.
The FEC decision came three years after the nonprofit government watchdog group Common Cause filed a complaint about the nature of the payment. The group alleged that American Media Inc and its former chief executive, Trump friend David Pecker, effectively made an illegal in-kind corporate contribution to Trump’s campaign when it paid McDougal $150,000 in exchange for her story about an affair she claimed to have had with Trump.
The group had alleged that the company’s $150,000 payment to McDougal months before the 2016 election was effectively an illegal in-kind corporate contribution to Trump’s presidential campaign.
McDougal sued AMI over the matter, claiming that the company bought her story not to publish it, but to bury it in advance of the election and spare Trump an embarrassing last minute revelation. Former employees of the tabloid have claimed it routinely would pay to “catch and kill” scandalous stories about celebrities who were friendly with Pecker.
Paul Ryan, vice president for policy and litigation for Common Cause, said the fine is “a win for democracy,” but is dismayed about the politics that prevented the FEC from holding the twice-impeached former president and his campaign accountable as well.
“The agency has again shown itself incapable of fully enforcing the campaign finance laws passed by Congress,” Ryan said in a statement.