Catch and kill is the practice by a media outlet to buy the right to a negative story about someone and not publish it so that the story doesn't go public.

Suppose this technique was used by a newspaper regarding a negative story about a presidential candidate, then that might constitute a campaign contribution. Indeed, the Federal Election Committee (FEC) states:

A contribution is anything of value given, loaned or advanced to influence a federal election. It is important to understand which receipts are considered contributions because:

According to Wikipedia, campaign contributions have to be reported to the FEC, which publishes a database of those contributions.

If the aforementioned practice is indeed a contribution, to what extent does it have to be disclosed (by the newspaper) and to what extent does the FEC publish about the contribution?

Specifically, does the contribution disclosure only include the amount of money involved (assuming the amount is high enough that it requires disclosing) or does it have to be so detailed that it reveals the catch and kill practice?


In the comments, it has been pointed out that there have not yet been any court rulings on this matter. Since the subject has been in the news a lot, is there a consensus among (legal) scholars regarding the questions above? If there is no consensus, what reasons are there for the difference in opinion?

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    I think this is better asked at Law, since it's a specific legal question about campaign finance laws. I'm not going to vote to close it as off-topic because it is about "political processes", but I think we won't be able to provide a good answer.
    – Bobson
    Aug 28, 2018 at 0:35
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    This is going to be a bad question anywhere, as we are essentially speculating on an area of law where this exact question has not previously arisen. In particular, Trump may have paid with his own funds rather than campaign funds. Are we now saying that personal expenditures that might help a campaign must be counted as in-kind transfers from the candidate to the campaign? Taken to extremes, this might be invasive. For example, Christ Christie's weight loss procedure might help his campaign by making him look more fit. Was it a campaign contribution?
    – Brythan
    Aug 28, 2018 at 3:12
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    @Brythan, Re "Chris Christie's weight loss procedure might help...": there's more than a reasonable doubt that Christie's surgery was undertaken to improve his health, and probably would have occurred even if there was no campaign. OTOH, "David Dennison's" six or seven figure hush fund for various mistresses would be all the more remarkable in the absence of a campaign.
    – agc
    Aug 28, 2018 at 5:33
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    @Brythan much as the news seems to revolve around mr. Trump, this question is about campaign finance, not one individual (campaign).
    – JJJ
    Aug 28, 2018 at 8:19
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    Answers can only be speculative at this point due to lack of precedent, as you yourself note, so voting to close. If you phrase it as to ask what scholars might have said in connection to this... perhaps it would be ok. Aug 28, 2018 at 12:35

1 Answer 1


It isn't illegal to pay someone for exclusive rights to a story and then choose not to publish it. It is, however, illegal to coordinate with a presidential campaign to provide an in-kind corporate contribution for the purpose of influencing a presidential election.

Our armchair speculation has been rendered moot, however, as David Pecker, CEO of AMI, has essentially admitted to committing a crime by accepting legal immunity from Mueller in return for his cooperation in the case against Trump.

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    I welcome the links, but this doesn't really answer the question of how such coordination would have to be reported to the FEC. If I understand correctly (from your first link), such an 'in-kind corporate contribution' is only illegal if not reported.
    – JJJ
    Oct 11, 2018 at 14:23
  • It would also be illegal if it was over the campaign contribution limit of $2,700.
    – David Rice
    Oct 11, 2018 at 15:48
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    I also wondered if it could be considered fraud to buy "rights to publish" with no intent to do so.
    – 42-
    Oct 11, 2018 at 16:05
  • This answer is factually incorrect. It is not necessary to allocute to accept legal immunity. Legal immunity only says that one can't be prosecuted. It is not an admission of guilt. At most, it is an admission that someone might perceive (rightly or wrongly) guilt.
    – Brythan
    Oct 11, 2018 at 23:17

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