Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Thompson: Violating the campaign laws he helped write

Lobbyist Fred Thompson lays out how his impression campaign finance law by circumventing the law which he helped write.
Since former Senator Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee has not yet declared his presidential candidacy, he cannot advertise on television, on radio or in newspapers to promote his political ambitions. But on the Internet, his supporters can turn to his official Web site, www.imwithfred.com, where they are solicited for donations and asked to spread the word to friends, hold fund-raising parties and call talk-radio programs on his behalf.
 
Visitors to the site can watch his "FredCast" and read "the Fred File" to get his views on issues like the economy and immigration law. Mr. Thompson, a Republican, has been able to set up what looks like a stealth campaign on the Internet because federal election laws and enforcement have failed to catch up with the surge in campaigning in cyberspace. As a result, he has been able to promote his positions and raise money through his Web site, all while technically remaining a noncandidate.
 
And that status enables him to remain on television on "Law and Order" reruns without NBC facing demands from other candidates for equal time. It exempts him from the more rigorous rules on reporting donors that declared candidates must adhere to.

Fred Thompson: The Money Is The Problem

Today's NYT report on Fred Thompson's "stealth" campaign for President claims that the 1 1/3 term Senator's use of the Internets has allowed him to skirt the law:
Since former Senator Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee has not yet declared his presidential candidacy, he cannot advertise on television, on radio or in newspapers to promote his political ambitions.
But on the Internet, his supporters can turn to his official Web site, www.imwithfred.com, where they are solicited for donations and asked to spread the word to friends, hold fund-raising parties and call talk-radio programs on his behalf. Visitors to the site can watch his "FredCast" and read "the Fred File" to get his views on issues like the economy and immigration law.
Mr. Thompson, a Republican, has been able to set up what looks like a stealth campaign on the Internet because federal election laws and enforcement have failed to catch up with the surge in campaigning in cyberspace. As a result, he has been able to promote his positions and raise money through his Web site, all while technically remaining a noncandidate.
FEC regulations that limit the use of traditional media for campaignlike activity apply to the Web as well. But while regulators can easily monitor the reach and level of spending on television and other traditional forms of advertising, the same is not the case with the Internet, since users determine how much traffic a site like Mr. Thompson's gets. And experts say enforcement is practically nonexistent.
Moinks!  Jeepers!  And yet the article is completely wrong on this.
There certainly are regulations regarding political activity online.  Only, thank goodness, they're not stupid regulations, and they do place certain obligations on candidates, parties and PACs in their online activities.  The fact that Fred Thompson has a website isn't the problem, nor, even, that's he's already hiring and firing staffers like a failed candidate.
No, the problem is that once you start raising and spending money like a candidate, and start referring to yourself as a candidate, you're a candidate, and as I've shown before it's pretty clear that Thompson's campaign is in violation of the law.
It's simple: under the law, a "testing the waters" fund like Thompson's is invalid if he raises funds "in excess of amounts reasonably required for exploratory activity or amass funds for use after candidacy is established".  Well, not only has Thompson already raised 3.4 million dollars to "explore" -- while only spending $625K of it (and on what, we don't know) -- but he is gallingly already raising money for the general election, which former FEC general counsel Lawrence Noble called "problematic" and "clearly a red flag."  
[Indeed, since Thompson hasn't spent $2.8M of what he's raised, the necessary implication is that he didn't need that money for exploratory purposes.]
In the meantime, Thompson gets free airtime on NBC and TNT to pale in comparison to legendary DA Adam Schiff.  He doesn't have to file any personal financial disclosure forms, nor does he have to disclose a single expenditure.
Can the FEC save the day?  Not really.  As the NYT notes towards the end, "Officials at the FEC said it would take action to determine that only if there were a specific complaint lodged against Mr. Thompson. And even then, the resolution of the question could take years. Guilty parties typically enter into settlements and pay fines for infractions."
But as Thompson himself said almost two months ago, "You're either running or not running. I think the steps we're taking are pretty obvious."
Indeed, they are, and it's about time Thompson complied with the law accordingly.



  
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