Two government watchdog groups have pushed this week to make public details about two $130,000 payments that were reportedly made by President Donald Trump’s associates within weeks of the 2016 presidential election.
Common Cause demanded that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) investigate reports that Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, created a private limited liability company to secretly sent a $130,000 payment to Stephanie Clifford—also known under her pseudonym as an adult film star, Stormy Daniels—in October 2016, weeks before Trump was elected.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the payment was made to keep Daniels from disclosing an alleged sexual encounter with Trump.
Regardless of the truth of the allegation and where exactly the money came from, Common Cause argues, the $130,000 should be considered a campaign expense—and therefore one that should have been reported to the FEC —”because the funds were paid for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential general election,” according to Paul S. Ryan, a campaign finance expert at Common Cause.
The payment amounts to “an unreported in-kind contribution,” the group wrote in its letters to the FEC and the DOJ.
Meanwhile, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) tweeted on Tuesday about a $130,000 payment that the Trump campaign made in December 2016 to Trump Tower.
While the campaign made many payments to the headquarters of Trump’s real estate empire between June 2015 when he announced his run, and January 2017 when he took office, only one payment of $130,000 was made—two months after the same sum was reportedly given to Daniels, suggesting that the campaign could have been paying Trump back for covering Daniels’s payment.
Common Cause and CREW did not comment on Daniels’s claims—made several times since 2011—that she had sexual relationship with the president, including the encounter she discussed in an interview with In Touch magazine last week, but were focused instead on Trump’s violation on campaign finance laws.
“The American people expect and deserve transparency when it comes to money spent to influence elections and those requirements are not optional no matter how embarrassing the reason behind the expense,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, in a statement. “Candidates and their attorneys cannot choose how and when to comply with federal campaign finance laws. We strongly urge the Justice Department and the FEC to fully investigate these apparent illegal activities and if appropriate to take action to hold the President and his campaign accountable.”