Federal Election Laws Limit Presidential Adult Film Star Payoffs To $2,700 [Opinion]

Candidates can't even claim the money was paid through the Adult Entertainment Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes.

Candidates cannot pay more than $2,700 in hush money to porn stars.
Media Punch / AP Images

Candidates can't even claim the money was paid through the Adult Entertainment Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes.

Until this week, few people were aware that federal election laws prevent paying more than $2,700 to pay hush money to an adult film star.

The law is not just for presidential candidates. If you are running for the U.S. Senate or the House of Representatives, you still can’t pay a penny more than $2,700, and how many adult film stars do you think are going to settle for that?

This civics lesson was provided to us by Common Cause, according to the Hill, when it filed complaints with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Election Commission this week claiming that if someone paid Donald Trump’s alleged mistress, adult film star Stormy Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford), $130,000 to ensure her silence that would be a violation of the law by $127,300.

Of course, the person who allegedly created a shell company and used a pseudonym to deliver the payoff, Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, denies that Trump and Daniels had an affair (Trump must have assured him that was the case).

Cohen, however, had no comment when the Wall Street Journal asked him about whether he had paid the $130,000.

Even if you accept the proposal that Cohen paid off Daniels to ensure non-disclosure about an affair she had already disclosed to In Touch, which kept it undisclosed until after word of the non-disclosure leaked out, then disclosed it (and that is not only a hard proposal to accept, but a hard proposal to understand), it would appear there could be some legal problems for the Trump campaign.

It is not that Cohen allegedly created a company and made some kind of cash transfer to Daniels. He could have made the payment in a suitcase filled with unmarked $20 bills, made a contribution to the Retirement Fund for Aging Adult Film Stars, or made it look as if Daniels was the winner in the Adult Entertainment Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes.

All of those things would be illegal.

And if Trump did not have an affair with Daniels that he wanted to keep quiet, it would also seem like a waste of $130,000. Even Trump’s billions might not last long enough to pay $130,000 to every woman who has not had an affair with him.

It should be noted that the federal law limiting adult film star payments to $2,700, also can be applied to other professions. You cannot go over $2,700 to pay hush money to singers, French maids, New Jersey waitresses, or female friends from Russian hotel rooms.

No matter who the person is — and whether the candidate has had sex with that person or not — the limit is $2,700.

The one exception to that during any given election cycle is that you can contribute the maximum amount, whether it be in cash to the campaign or in hush money to an adult film actress, during both the primary and general elections.

That $5,400 could come in handy.

There is always the option of funneling money to potentially chatty adult film actresses through political action committees (PACs). PACs can give a maximum of $5,000 to a candidate or a total of $10,000 in contributions, whether they be in cash or in-kind, for both the primary and general elections.

Whether Cohen would be legally able to create a PAC for the sole purpose of paying hush money is hard to determine. No decisions have been handed down in any such case.

Donald Trump 's lawyer allegedly paid off porn star to keep quiet.
  Carolyn Kaster / AP Images

In the Daniels case, it would have been much easier for Cohen (if he actually paid the $130,000), if Daniels had simply continued the political career she abandoned in 2010 when for several months she considered a run for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana against Republican incumbent David Vitter.

If Daniels had been involved in such a political campaign in 2016, it could have been said that it was an illegal contribution to her rather than an illegal contribution from Cohen or Trump.

Fox News would have pushed that interpretation for months.

As it is, it hard to imagine that the FBI or FEC is going to do much more than make a cursory examination of whether hush money payoffs to adult film stars are illegal.

Perhaps a special prosecutor should be named.

Now there is an idea.