Legal expert says Alvin Bragg's legal theory in Trump's case doesn't hold up

 May 2, 2024

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has accused former President Donald Trump of violating campaign finance rules with a hush-money payment to former adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Yet according to legal expert Hans von Spakovsky, the district attorney's claim quickly unravels when subjected to scrutiny. 

District Attorney claims that Trump's payment to Daniels was a campaign expense

Von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation's Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, and he made that argument in an article published by the Daily Signal on Wednesday.

He began by recalling how Daniels said she had a sexual relationship with Trump in 2006, which led him to reach a $130,000 settlement with her a decade later.

The settlement included a nondisclosure agreement, something which Von Spakovsky noted "is a standard provision in many settlement agreements of personal injury cases and other claims."

Bragg purports that this was an illegal expenditure under federal campaign finance law which in turn violated a state law that bans promoting "the election of any person to public office by unlawful means."

Von Spakovsky observed that this theory is crucial to Bragg's case since the crime he has charged Trump with, falsifying business records, is only a misdemeanor unless it is done in furtherance of another offense.

FEC uses "irrespective test" to distinguish personal and campaign expenses

However, von Spakovsky maintained that the Daniels payment did not constitute a campaign-related expense for purposes of the Federal Election Campaign Act.

He pointed to the Federal Election Commission's (FEC) website which uses an "irrespective test" to "differentiate legitimate campaign and officeholder expenses from personal expenses."

Specifically, "personal use is any use of funds … to fulfill a commitment, obligation, or expense of any person that would exist, irrespective of the candidates' campaign."

"In other words, if the expense would exist even if the individual were not a candidate, then it's personal and not a campaign expense," von Spakovsky wrote.

Trump's agreement with Daniels was similar to deals reached by other celebrities

Von Spakovsky argued that Trump's payment to Daniels "fails that test" as "celebrities get these kinds of nuisance claims all the time."

Indeed, publisher David Pecker testified that he worked out similar arrangements for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tiger Woods.

Von Spakovsky also recalled how in 2021 the FEC concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to conclude any campaign finance violation on Trump's part.

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