Manafort, Cohen cases reveal weaknesses in enforcement of tax and election laws
Paul Manafort’s multiyear tax fraud and Michael Cohen’s ability to easily arrange campaign contributions as hush money could have been intercepted sooner based on existing tax and campaign rules. But decisions by policymakers and lawmakers to defang regulation and defund investigations, particularly through political pressure aimed at the Internal Revenue Service, helped the behavior to go unnoticed.
Experts believe similar behavior is flourishing throughout the political system, exploiting the yawning gaps in government scrutiny. Trevor Potter, a former Republican FEC commissioner and founder of the campaign-finance advocacy group Campaign Legal Center, said the FEC could be a powerful deterrent if it were aggressively pursuing enforcement action and referring more potential criminal cases to the Justice Department. “Every few years, there’s a sort of scandal like this with criminal penalties, and people going to jail,” Potter said. “That reminds campaigns and their lawyers and accountants that these are laws that have serious teeth, and that even though the odds of a violation being discovered may be small, the effect of discovering a criminal violation is life ruining.”