Free Speech For People v. American Media, Inc.

On Friday, February 16, 2018, Free Speech For People filed a complaint before the Federal Election Commission demanding “an immediate investigation” into a payment of $150,000 from American Media, Inc. to Ms. Karen McDougal. 

The complaint seeks to uncover whether the payment to Karen McDougal was an unreported in-kind contribution to President Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign committee, and an unreported expenditure by the committee. As stated by Free Speech For People Senior Counsel, Shanna Cleveland, “The payment may have been an effort to conceal a politically embarrassing fact and influence the 2016 general election. If that’s the case, the payment is a direct violation of the Federal Elections Campaign Act.”

Key facts

Caption Free Speech For People v. American Media Inc.
Court Federal Election Commission
Docket No. 7332
Status Complaint Filed
Plaintiffs Free Speech For People
Defendant American Media Inc. and Trump Campaign

 

 

 

Background

American Media Inc., the company that owns the National Enquirer, paid $150,000 for exclusive rights to a story of Karen McDougal and her affair with Donald J. Trump in 2006-07. McDougal’s earlier efforts to sell her story to the Enquirer had failed, but AMI began serious negotiations after Trump clinched the nomination. The deal was reach in August 2016. After purchasing the rights to the story, the National Enquirer, opted not to publish the story, a practice known as “catch and kill” in the tabloid business.

“The timing of the deal, and the AMI CEO’s close relationship with Trump, suggest that the decision not to publish might not have been a journalistic decision,” says Shanna Cleveland, Senior Counsel for Free Speech For People and the author of the complaint. “The payment may have been an effort to conceal a politically embarrassing fact and influence the 2016 general election. If that’s the case, the payment is a direct violation of the Federal Elections Campaign Act.”

Since the filing of our complaint, Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges that are directly relevant. The criminal information against Cohen described the payments and charged two criminal counts: causing an unlawful corporate contribution, and an excess contribution. (These correspond to counts II and IIII in our FEC complaint.) In Cohen’s plea allocution, he further told the court that he made the illegal payments “in coordination with, and at the direction of” Trump.

Read more about the case in our blog post.

Major case developments

In the news

  • Newsweek, McDougal Payment from American Media was Trump Campaign Contribution, Watchdog Group Claims to FEC (Feb. 19, 2018)
  • CNN, Michael Cohen Implicates Trump in Hush Money Scheme (Aug. 22, 2018)
  • The New Yorker, Donald Trump, a Playboy Model, and a System for Concealing Infidelity (Feb. 16, 2018)
  • The Wall Street Journal, National Enquirer Shielded Donald Trump From Playboy Model’s Affair Allegation (Nov. 4, 2016)

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