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Under federal campaign finance law, individual campaign contributions are limited to $2,700 per individual, or $5,400 for a couple, for each election cycle – that includes primary elections and the general election.

According to PBS: "Michael Cohen made a campaign-related expenditure on behalf of the campaign. Cohen’s payment to Clifford, prosecutors said, exceeded the $2,700 limit on personal contributions to a single candidate for an election."

So just to clarify, an individual giving a campaign 2,700$ is considered the same thing as a campaign giving an individual 2,700$? Both transactions can't exceed 2,700$? I always thought an individual can contribute to a campaign but that when the campaign spends money it's no longer called a contribution. At that point, it's just called an expenditure.

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Michael Cohen made a campaign-related expenditure on behalf of the campaign. Cohen’s payment to Clifford, prosecutors said, exceeded the $2,700 limit on personal contributions to a single candidate for an election.

The issue here is that Cohen's payment to Clifford on behalf of the campaign was legally speaking a contribution to the campaign by Cohen. Because the amount exceeded $2700, the payment violated the law.

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  • So do you agree that if the money came from the campaign and they disclosed it that no law would have been broken? – user27343 Dec 15 '18 at 4:25
  • @user27343 no campaign finance law, as far as I can see. Perhaps other laws would have been broken. – phoog Dec 15 '18 at 4:28
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… is an individual giving a campaign 2,700$ is considered the same thing as a campaign giving an individual 2,700$?

No. However that's probably not the political nor legal issue here, both of which are more complex, intertwined and subjective. To help think about that (but not answer subjectively): It seems that Cohen has foot-shot himself into jail, hefty fines, and probably disbarment; is he now credible?

If Cohen gave the money to Clifford, the question becomes did he contribute money to the campaign? (Apparently Cohen has plead guilty to campaign finance violation, but I haven't found the details.) Did he do this to seek leniency for his other admitted crimes? Is he now credible?

If Cohen (a lawyer) did this in blind obedience to his unsubstantiated claim that Trump ordered him to do so, who's to blame. As a lawyer did he have a professional responsibility to say "no"? Is he now credible?

Again, based on the fiduciary responsibilities of a lawyer, is he permitted to testify or otherwise speak out against his client by making allegations about a privileged communications? Is he now credible?

These questions may have different legal and political answers depending on who is asked. However neither Trump nor the prosecutors have much good to say about Cohen.

AFIK Nothing says campains can't expend more than $2,700 at a time, it happens frequently. As far as I know its also not illegal for a candidate to contribute more to his own campaign, but there may be reporting requirements involved.

There are probably more difficult questions, these serve simply to show why the reporting is so unclear. I'm not asserting any of them can be answered unbiasedly. But that doesn't stop partisan people from claiming they have the answer.

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  • I'm confused about the way PBS phrased it. I read in other places that the issue here is not exceeding 2,700$. 1. Cohen used his own money when it should have come from the campaign (because it was a campaign contribution). 2. The campaign could have given Daniels 1,000,000$. However, they would have had to disclose it. So Cohen not only used private funds, be he did so without disclosing it. – user27343 Dec 15 '18 at 1:30
  • You're unlikely to find clear unbiased answers soon. Please consider adding links to specific information if you want to talk about how it was phrased. You can edit your question to do so. – Burt_Harris Dec 15 '18 at 1:36
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The issue here is that Cohen made a payment for the benefit of Trump the candidate. This makes it a contribution to Trump’s campaign even though the funds never actually passed through the campaigns’s hands. As such, it should have been declared to comply with campaign finance laws.

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As I understand the money trail, as outlined in various court filings:

  1. Cohen borrowed money on his home line of credit. He may have lied to the bank about the purpose of the loan, thus committing bank fraud;
  2. Cohen paid the money to a new dummy corporation, Essential Consultants LLC, which in turn paid the money to Stormy Daniels, using pseudonyms.
  3. In order to make Cohen whole again, the Trump Organization paid Cohen a "retainer" for a number of months.
  4. Cohen received the "retainer" payments, declared them as income (income tax fraud) and paid the tax on it (income tax fraud). Cohen repaid the home equity loan with the balance of the retainer. (The total of the retainer payments was inflated to pay the income tax and leave enough to repay Cohen's home equity loan and interest)
  5. The Trump Organization listed the retainer payments on its books as legal expenses. If this was included in the Trump Organization's income tax return as a business expense against Trump Organization income, then the Trump Organization committed tax fraud as well. (The long-time CFO of the Trump Organization has been granted immunity)

And that's how the money got from Trump to Clifford...

And President-elect Trump did not list the payment on his mandatory campaign expenditures report

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  • Thank you for taking the time to lay that all out. If the president directed Cohen to commit these crimes he should be indicted. I'm tired of hearing how a "sitting president cannot be indicted." No man is above the law. – user27343 Dec 15 '18 at 6:35

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