Andrew Yang's Offer Raises Legal Questions

He's giving people money out of campaign funds, which gets a little dicey
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 13, 2019 3:29 PM CDT
Andrew Yang's Offer Raises Legal Questions
Andrew Yang is interviewed Thursday night after a Democratic presidential primary debate in Houston.   (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Andrew Yang's first step in his plan to give Americans $1,000 per month is receiving scrutiny not just for the cost, or its potential effectiveness in boosting the economy, but its legality. Yang said in the Democratic debate Thursday that he wants to get a head start by handing out checks to 10 Americans monthly for the next year. The potential problem is that the money would come out of campaign funds. That fact got experts thinking:

  • This is probably legal in terms of election law provided Yang refrains from asking recipients for their votes, the New York Times reports. Campaigns aren't allowed to trade anything of value for votes. One expert can't recall this issue coming up before.
  • Officials would have to decide if the expense would exist if Yang weren't a candidate for office, because it's against the rules to use campaign money for personal expenses. Campaign donations need to be spent on campaigns, one expert said, "and not on somebody’s car payment." Yang's campaign said the payments are an attempt to educate voters about his proposal, so the cost would not exist if he weren't a candidate, and so are legal.

  • Even if the payments are ruled legal, they'd "push the boundaries" of the law, a Common Cause official said. "This unprecedented use of campaign funds would give rise to a bunch of novel legal questions."
  • The idea is so popular with venture capitalists that one offered to foot the bill, should Yang lose the legality debate. "I like this idea so much I'll do it personally for those 10 people if you can't," Alexis Ohanian, who founded Reddit, posted to Yang. Roy Bahat praised Yang for what he called a bold experiment, per the Washington Post. "How else can we learn what works?"
  • Late-night TV hosts jumped on the proposal but didn't necessarily find it funny. "In America, everything revolves around the almighty dollar," Stephen Colbert said, per AOL, adding, "Daddy's got deep pockets! Vote for me, and I'll make it rain!" Jimmy Kimmel said, "That may be the most ridiculous proposal I've seen on this network, and I've watched every episode of the Bachelorette."
  • It may seem like satire, but adding to the confusion is the fact that the Federal Election Commission is shorthanded and just can't deal with this right now. It lacks a quorum, per the Times, so it could not issue an advisory opinion to Yang and can't fine his campaign it until it gets another member.
(More Andrew Yang 2020 stories.)

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