Fmr. FEC Chair: Trump Didn’t Violate Election Law, He Couldn’t Make Those Payments with Campaign Funds

On Tuesday’s broadcast of the Fox News Channel’s “Ingraham Angle,” Bradley Smith, who served on the FEC under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush stated that under federal campaign law, the subjective intent of a spender or donor doesn’t matter in determining if something is a campaign expenditure and “it’s actually illegal to spend your campaign funds for those type of things that benefit you for obligations you might have had even if you didn’t run for office.”

Smith stated, “[T]hat key phrase is for the purpose of influencing an election. But that doesn’t mean the subjective intent of the spender or the donor. In other words, if I think that it would be really useful to help President Trump win the election by making a contribution to the National Rifle Association, that’s not a campaign expenditure, despite my subjective intent. Or, put it in the candidate’s term[s], if a candidate says, I need to have a really nice looking suit for the debate and spends a bunch of money on a suit he would not normally spend, that doesn’t become a campaign expenditure. It’s still a personal expenditure.”

He continued, “Just looking at it common sense-wise then, let’s — before we get back into the technicalities of the law — so, you’re a person out there, you write your check for 20 or 50 or $500, whatever you can afford to a candidate, do you think you’re writing that check to pay hush money to someone? And the answer is no. You think you’re writing that check to pay for campaign ads and that sort of thing. And that’s what the law provides, the Supreme Court has long said you can’t have a subjective standard in campaign finance, it needs to be objective. And so, we look at it and we say, would a person who is not running for office do that? I mean, he might not buy a $2,000 suit, but he is going to buy clothes. So, it’s not a campaign expenditure. We might say, he might not otherwise pay for his tooth whitening, but other people would, so it’s not a campaign expenditure. What is a campaign expenditure? A TV ad that says, vote for me. Nobody buys that unless you’re running for Congress.”

Smith added, “[A]gain, it goes back to this idea that not everything that you might spend that might influence a campaign meets that statutory definition. And in fact, it’s worse than that, because it’s actually illegal to spend your campaign funds for those type of things that benefit you for obligations you might have had even if you didn’t run for office. And let me use one more example here: Suppose you’re a businessperson, you get these lawsuits filed against you, you say, I’m going to run for Congress, you go to your corporate attorney and you say, I want these lawsuits settled, and he says, no, they’re bogus, we should go [to court]. And [you say,] no, I want them settled so they’re not a campaign issue, right? You can’t pay for that with campaign funds.”

Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett


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