Lisa Bloom’s efforts to arrange undisclosed compensation during the 2016 presidential campaign for women accusing President Donald Trump of sexual harassment may raise a host of troubling legal ethics and election law worries for the California celebrity lawyer.
Mark Fitzgibbons, president of corporate affairs at American Target Advertising, headquartered in Manassas, Virginia, pointed to The Hill’s Friday bombshell report that the women’s rights lawyer arranged for public and prospective Trump accusers to receive compensation for coming forward through media outlets and political donors.
If political action committees and donors connected with 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton helped fund the compensation, Fitzgibbons warned it would be “very troubling from a legal ethics perspective.”
“All the trouble I have is Lisa Bloom as an attorney acting as a conduit to pay somebody to make factual allegations that have legal implications,” Fitzgibbons told LifeZette. “That just seems inconsistent with the American system of justice and American rules for lawyers.”
Although ultimately turned down, Bloom offered one woman up to $750,000 to come forward with her allegations. Bloom suggested to another woman in text messages that political action committees associated with Clinton could aid in her compensation.
Bloom arranged for donors to contribute under $30,000 to pay off one woman’s mortgage and requested a commission for herself from media outlets interesting in running her clients’ stories, according to The Hill.
Lisa Bloom denied engaging in any direct contact with Hillary Clinton or her presidential campaign, although she declined to tell The Hill about her contacts with political action committees.
“I’m very troubled that Lisa Bloom acted as a conduit for undisclosed sources of money.”
“This could fall under influencing — an attempt to influence an election. So money that’s spent on attempts to influence elections is regulated,” Fitzgibbons said. “But this, if it was done to influence the election — and we don’t know that for sure, but it seems that way — it puts it in the realm of at least considering that this might be subject to campaign finance reporting.”
Former FEC Chairman Brad Smith pointed to specific requirements of what campaign regulation refers to as “express advocacy” as likely not met by the Bloom effort.
“An independent expenditure has to include express advocacy, per statute. So if the accusers specifically said something like ‘I hope that voters will reject Trump’ that might do it. But it might still be hard to show that that is what the payment was for,” said Smith, who is chairman and founder of the Institute for Free Speech.
“The payment, they would argue, was just to go public with their stories, not to specifically oppose the election of Trump. That was a voluntary comment by the speaker, on her own. No money spent, no violation,” he said.
Smith cautioned, however, that “you wouldn’t need express advocacy to violate the ‘electioneering communication’ rule, but that would require using the statements in paid tv/radio ads of at least $10,000, which I gather is clearly inapplicable here. If coordinated with the campaign, payments would be a contribution to the campaign.”
Fitzgibbons stressed that although “it’s a bit of a gray area,” Bloom may not have violated any federal election laws by seeking compensation for her clients during the 2016 presidential campaign, noting that “it just seems to be too susceptible to the big state getting involved with everything.”
“I don’t know that campaign finance law wanted to discourage people from coming out with factual allegations about candidates or anybody in society by requiring money to be reported,” Fitzgibbons said. “That was not the real purpose of campaign finance law. Although since this does appear to be trying to influence an election, it could fall under the realm of campaign finance law.”
Fitzgibbons added, “We don’t want people coming out and making accusations about anybody based on the fact that they’re getting money to make the accusations. So it’s a complicated issue from campaign law perspective. I’m very troubled that Lisa Bloom acted as a conduit for undisclosed sources of money.”