The sad, tawdry case of Donald Trump’s affair with Karen McDougal and the attempt by American Media Inc. to suppress the story achieved a form of closure this week when the Federal Election Commission levied a fine of $187,500 fine against AMI.
Not that it’s a huge fine. But it effectively makes the matter go away.
Common Cause, which in 2018 filed complaints with the Department of Justice and the FEC, called the fine “a win for democracy and for Common Cause.”
Tabloid publisher AMI, which is now called A360 Media, had no comment.
But the FEC opinion notes that AMI agreed to the fine “Solely for the purpose of settling this matter expeditiously and avoiding litigation, with no admission as to the merit of the Commission’s legal conclusions.”
Here’s the back story.
AMI paid McDougal $150,000 for rights to the story of her relationship with “any married man.” But the purpose was to spike the story as the 2016 election approached.
That, by itself, was not a violation. But the payment to the actress “constituted a prohibited corporate in-kind contribution in violation of 52 U.S.C,” a statement that AMI agreed not to contest as part of the deal.
As part of a non-prosecution agreement reached with the DOJ in 2018, AMI acknowledged the payment of $150,000 was “substantially more than AMI otherwise would have paid to acquire the story” because of (Trump lawyer) Michael Cohen’s assurances that AMI would ultimately be reimbursed for the payment.”
In addition, AMI admitted its “principal purpose in entering into the agreement was to suppress [McDougal’s] story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.”
The firm also knew that “corporations such as AMI are subject to federal campaign finance laws, and that expenditures by corporations, made for purposes of influencing an election and in coordination with or at the request of a candidate or campaign, are unlawful,” it added.
This is not a First Amendment issue. Periodicals are free to publish stories or not, and to write checks for exclusives. It does raise the matter of journalistic ethics — should any news entity get tied up with politicians to that degree?
This doesn’t mean that all parties are happy with the outcome. Common Cause states: “AMI has been fined. But the former president has not yet been held accountable.”
It adds the DOJ “has until August to prosecute Trump for orchestrating this illegal campaign finance scheme.”