Daniels’ crowd­fund­ing ques­tioned

Who is pro­vid­ing funds is un­known

Albuquerque Journal - - WASHINGTON & NATION - AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

LOS AN­GE­LES — Stormy Daniels has raised nearly a half-mil­lion dol­lars to fund her law­suit against Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, re­ly­ing on con­tri­bu­tions from a crowd­fund­ing site. Her lawyer has re­peat­edly pointed to the pub­lic site as ev­i­dence that he and his client aren’t bankrolled by Trump’s po­lit­i­cal foes.

But the truth is, no one knows pre­cisely who is fund­ing the ef­fort.

The more than 14,000 dona­tions have been made mostly anony­mously in amounts rang­ing from $10 to $5,000.

Through Mon­day, Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clif­ford, and her at­tor­ney, Michael Ave­natti, raised more than $490,000 on CrowdJus­tice.com, a crowd­fund­ing site ded­i­cated to help­ing peo­ple raise money for le­gal fees.

Jes­sica Levin­son, a pro­fes­sor at Loy­ola Law School, said it’s un­usual but “not to­tally un­heard of” for a lawyer to seek on­line dona­tions to cover le­gal costs.

“It does bring up some eth­i­cal con­cerns in terms of who is ac­tu­ally giv­ing this money and whether they will try to ex­ert in­flu­ence,” said Levin­son, who also is pres­i­dent of the Los An­ge­les City Ethics Com­mis­sion.

Crowdjus­tice.com donors can choose whether to share their names with the per­son seek­ing funds. The site dis­plays dona­tions with ei­ther a first name or as anony­mous donor.

Kath­leen Clark, a pro­fes­sor of ethics law at Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity, echoed Levin­son’s con­cern.

The anony­mous dona­tions can be “fod­der for pub­lic de­bate on who is ac­tu­ally back­ing this law­suit,” Clark said.

“Of course when the third party is ac­tu­ally 14,000 dif­fer­ent peo­ple it seems ac­tu­ally less of a dan­ger than it would be in an or­di­nary case where a sin­gle third party would be pay­ing,” she said.

Levin­son said as long as Ave­natti doesn’t change his le­gal strat­egy be­cause of the pay­ments, there isn’t an in­her­ent eth­i­cal is­sue.

“Peo­ple can have par­ti­san af­fil­i­a­tions and I don’t think any­one thought Michael Ave­natti was a Trump sup­porter,” Levin­son said.

Among those rais­ing ques­tions: Fox News Chan­nel host Laura Ingraham, who ded­i­cated a seg­ment to the is­sue last week, and the Daily Caller, a con­ser­va­tive web­site that Ave­natti has threat­ened to sue.

A col­umn in The Hill that ques­tioned who is fi­nanc­ing the law­suit prompted Ave­natti to re­lease a state­ment last week that “ALL fees and ex­penses of this case have ei­ther been funded by our client, Ms. Stephanie Clif­ford, or by dona­tions from our crowdjus­tice.com page.”

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