Why Allegations of Campaign Finance Violations Won’t Bring Down Trump
I think we can all agree that the whole Trump-Russia collusion thing has gone down the toilet because Democrats are not talking about it anymore. Instead, they are pinning their hopes on weak allegations of “illegal” campaign finance violations over hush money payments made to two women alleging affairs. To hear Trump’s enemies talk about it, they think they’ve finally found the issue that will take Trump down.
Like the Trump-Russia nonsense before it, this campaign finance violation approach to bringing down Trump will fail. Why? One only has to look to Trump’s predecessor, who committed far worse campaign violations, for the answer.
In 2008, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, riding high on grassroots donations, failed to incorporate basic verification and security protocols to prevent fraudulent or perhaps international donations to the campaign.
The Washington Post reported on October 29, 2008:
Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign is allowing donors to use largely untraceable prepaid credit cards that could potentially be used to evade limits on how much an individual is legally allowed to give or to mask a contributor's identity, campaign officials confirmed.
Faced with a huge influx of donations over the Internet, the campaign has also chosen not to use basic security measures to prevent potentially illegal or anonymous contributions from flowing into its accounts, aides acknowledged. Instead, the campaign is scrutinizing its books for improper donations after the money has been deposited.
Now, why would the Obama campaign have such faulty security for donations? Remember, in 2008, Obama was raising record amounts of money, and he flip-flopped on his promise to accept public funding in the general election. Donations were the life-blood of his campaign, enabling him to outraise and outspend John McCain in the crucial final months of the campaign. Why were they using shoddy security that would “make it impossible to tell whether foreign nationals, donors who have exceeded the limits, government contractors or others who are barred from giving to a federal campaign are making contributions”? Does anyone really believe no one on the Obama team knew that from the beginning?
Would you believe that the Obama campaign was up to the same shenanigans in 2012? Former PJ Media editor Bryan Preston reported that of all the presidential campaigns that year, the Obama campaign, once again, was the only one not using basic security measures to prevent fraudulent or untraceable donations. That's right, despite the Washington Post report in 2008, and despite the ongoing audit of their 2008 campaign, they didn't clean up their act in 2012. Why would they do that? Because they knew that the worst that could happen was that they would have to pay a fine—after the election was over. Which is exactly what happened. In April 2012, the Obama campaign was fined $375,000 for campaign finance violations over their shady 2008 donations and other reporting issues. It was a huge fine that Obama supporters and the media said wasn't a big deal.
Attempts to compare Obama’s campaign finance violations with what Trump is being accused of now (offering hush money to women he allegedly had affairs with to—gasp!—influence the election) are scoffed at by Trump’s critics by writing off the Obama violations as merely clerical issues rather than intentional subversions of campaign finance laws. Seriously? Are we expected to believe that no one in Obama’s campaign organization believed that standard security on credit card donations was necessary in 2008? Or how about the fact that even after being called out on it in 2008, they were still accepting shady donations, enabling foreign nationals to donate, and others to skirt donation limits in 2012? Dinesh D’Souza was tried, convicted, and sentenced to five years probation and eight months in a community confinement center for less.
As others have pointed out, hush money payments are not illegal, nor are they matters of campaign finance. Bradley Smith, the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, goes into detail at National Review to explain why Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, actually pled guilty to something that isn’t even a crime because hush money payments are not campaign expenditures and therefore there was “no violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act.”
...imagine a wealthy entrepreneur who decides to run for office. Like many men and women with substantial business activities, at any one time there are likely several lawsuits pending against him personally, or against those various businesses. The candidate calls in his company attorney: “I want all outstanding lawsuits against our various enterprises settled.” His lawyer protests that the suits are without merit — the company should clearly win at trial, and he should protect his reputation of not settling meritless lawsuits. “I agree that these suits lack merit,” says our candidate, “but I don’t want them as a distraction during the campaign, and I don’t want to take the risk that the papers will use them to portray me as a heartless tycoon. Get them settled.”
The settlements in this hypothetical are made “for the purpose of influencing the election,” yet they are not “expenditures” under the Federal Election Campaign Act. Indeed, if they were, the candidate would have to pay for them with campaign funds. Thus, an unscrupulous but popular businessman could declare his candidacy, gather contributions from the public, use those contributions to settle various preexisting lawsuits, and then withdraw from the race. A nice trick!
Another relevant example would be the hush money Obama attempted to pay his former pastor, the anti-American racist Jeremiah Wright. According to Wright, Barack Obama secretly met with him and asked him not to do “any more public speaking until after the November election” because it would “hurt the campaign.” A close friend of Obama then offered Wright $150,000 to keep quiet. Wright refused, but the offer was made.
Keep in mind, top Democrats are saying Trump should be impeached and possibly jailed over his alleged campaign finance violations. By the standard they’re setting, Obama should have been impeached, and should, even now, face jail time for his far more egregious campaign finance violations.
Democrats know they’re barking up the wrong tree, but their base wants them to pull no punches in their quest to stop Trump. Just sit back and relax. Everything that’s playing out now is simply political theater at its most extreme level.
Matt Margolis is the author of The Scandalous Presidency of Barack Obama and the bestselling The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. His new book, Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama's Legacy, will be published in 2019. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis