November 25, 2022

Federal political candidates can pay people to support them

There is no law against paying people to support a political campaign, but candidates must publicly disclose the payment.

As candidates make their final push ahead of the midterm elections, you might start to see more and more of them boasting endorsements from celebrities or notable organizations.

This led VERIFY viewer Jack to wonder if politicians could just pay these people to endorse them. Accusations of such payments have drawn controversy for candidates in the past.

THE QUESTION

Is it legal for federal political candidates to pay for endorsements?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

Yes, it is legal for federal applicants to pay for endorsements. But they must abide by public disclosure laws and report payments.

WHAT WE FOUND

According to Federal Election Commissionno law prohibits applicants from paying for endorsements.

A spokesperson told VERIFY, “No provision of the FEC rules specifically addresses paid endorsements of federal applicants.”

Campaigns for state or local offices are governed by the laws of those jurisdictions, not the FEC, and therefore may have different requirements depending on where they are located.

Federal applicants are legally required to disclose all payments, including those made in exchange for endorsements. The Federal Election Campaign Act requires that campaigns for federal office file regular reports where their money comes from and where it goes.

This report must include the name and address of any “person to whom an expense…exceeding $200…is made…as well as the date, amount and purpose of such…expense”.

The FEC spokesperson confirmed, stating via email that campaigns “must provide a ‘disbursement goal’ that describes the nature of the transaction,” for any money disbursed.

So paying for an endorsement is not illegal, but trying to hide that payment could get a candidate in trouble.

A notable example of these issues is the former Iowa State Senator Kent Sorenson. In 2012, he took money in exchange for endorsements for two Republican presidential candidates, first Michelle Bachmann, then later Ron Paul, by court file.

Sorenson was charged with willfully causing false expense reports and obstructing justice, and pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 months in prison. But that was for the cover-up, not the payments themselves. He also violated Iowa State Senate ethics rules which state that sitting senators cannot take campaign money, but the candidates who paid him did not violate any. law.

Accusations of paying for endorsements can still be a source of controversy, even if the candidate is in the clear legally. In 2019, a Associated Press Report revealed that a campaign staffer for Democratic presidential candidate and billionaire Tom Steyer offered money to local Iowa politicians in exchange for their support. There was no evidence anyone had agreed, and Steyer denied trying to buy support, but faced widespread criticism for appearing to try to use his wealth to enter office. Steyer won no delegates in the Iowa caucuses; he dropped out of the race a few months later.

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