Open Secrets: In-kind Contributions Are Boring … Until Stormy Daniels Gets Involved
When they don’t involve adult film actresses, presidential sex scandals and six-figure payments in the days before an election, in-kind political contributions rarely make headlines.
In fact, in-kind contributions, which the Federal Election Commission (FEC) defines as “gifts of goods or services,” are more commonly associated with event catering, website design and travel expenses.
Adav Noti, who spent 10 years working for the FEC, is now senior director of the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center. He said the payment, which kept potentially damaging information about Trump from the public, amounted to an in-kind contribution.
“It was a payment made to influence the election,” Noti said.
“A payment made to influence an election is, by definition, either an expenditure or a contribution or both,” Noti said. “In this case, if Cohen made it completely independently — just of his own accord — that would be an independent expenditure, which he would have been required to report within 24 or 48 hours of making it.”
Any coordination with the candidate could compound the violation.
“If he coordinated the spending with either the candidate or the candidate’s committee — and as a lawyer, he almost certainly did that and had an ethical obligation to before he signed off on the settlement — then it is an in-kind contribution that was subject not only to reporting but to contribution limits,” Noti said.
“If this had been made three years earlier, I don’t think we’d be having this same conversation,” Noti said. “But it was made 11 or 12 days before the election to ensure that a damaging piece of information was not available to voters when they went to vote.”
“It’s true that, generally speaking, the FEC just doesn’t enforce — period,” Noti said. “But there are a lot of unusual aspects to this case, and it’s hard to say with any level of certainty that the FEC won’t act at some point. I could see the FEC opening an investigation.”