The National Enquirer
's owner has agreed to pay a $187,500 civil penalty to the Federal Election Commission
for illegally assisting former President Donald Trump
's 2016 campaign by suppressing a story about a woman who claimed she had an affair with him.
The FEC said Tuesday that it found reason to believe American Media
, Inc. (AMI), the parent company of the Enquirer, and former AMI CEO
David Pecker made a prohibited corporate contribution to Trump's campaign when it paid $150,000 for model Karen McDougal
's story in August 2016.
According to the FEC, AMI, now known as A360 Media, LLC, and Pecker, a Trump friend, had no intention of running the story, instead attempting to influence the 2016 election by suppressing a potentially unflattering story about Trump. This tactic is known as “catch and kill,” in which a publication buys the rights to a story in order to prevent an individual from going public with it as a favor to a third party.
The FEC stated in a letter in response to a 2018 complaint filed by Common Cause, a government watchdog group based in Washington
, that Pecker and former Enquirer Editor-in-Chief Dylan Howard paid McDougal for the rights to her claim that she had a sexual relationship with Trump in 2006.
McDougal has been outspoken about her brief affair with Trump, who has denied having such an affair with her.
NEW: The NATIONAL ENQUIRER's parent company has agreed to pay $187,500 to settle an @FEC complaint that its $150k payment to former Playboy Playmate KAREN McDOUGAL to buy & bury her story of an affair with TRUMP was an illegal contribution to his campaign. https://t.co/JYTWLUZm0a
According to the FEC, AMI admitted to the Justice Department
in 2018 that the $150,000 payment to McDougal was more than the company typically pays for catch and kill stories, but it did so because Trump's personal attorney at the time, Michael Cohen
, promised to reimburse the company.
According to the FEC's letter, Pecker signed over the rights to McDougal's story to Cohen in September 2016 for $125,000, and Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to violating campaign finance
laws in connection with McDougal's story.
According to the FEC, A360 Media agreed to the settlement on May 17, and as part of the agreement, A360 will stop violating the corporate campaign contribution law and pay a $187,500 civil penalty.
According to the FEC's letter, A360 Media does not dispute that AMI's purchase of McDougal's story violated federal election laws, but the company does not admit to breaking the law knowingly and willfully.
AMI has argued that its decision to purchase McDougal's story but not publish it was protected by the First Amendment
and the press exemption outlined in the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, but the FEC has said that the press exemption does not apply in this case because the payments were made to benefit Trump's campaign.
According to Paul Ryan
, Common Cause's vice president of policy and litigation, Trump has yet to be held accountable for the McDougal payoff and a similar arrangement with porn actress Stormy Daniels.
“Michael Cohen was sentenced to prison
for these violations, and AMI was fined, but the former president has yet to be held accountable,” Ryan told Politico
. “The Department of Justice
has until August to charge Trump with orchestrating this illegal campaign finance scheme.”