News/Op-Ed: Candidate Andrew Yang’s Campaign Stunt Might Run Into Legal Trouble

by Tim Levine, Executive Editor

One of the biggest moments of the last Democratic debate came from Andrew Yang’s opening statement, in which he announced an unprecedented move to give ten people $1,000 a month for a year. 

2019FreedomDividend

The stunt is an attempt to garner popularity and promote the candidates flagship policy proposal, The Freedom Dividend, which would give every adult American $1000 a month for personal use. Yang plans to raffle off these ten entrants from his list of over 450,000 entrants who have signed up for the promotion. While it is an exciting idea and one that is unique to the political world, there are still many questioning the legality of it.

The $120,000 necessary for the contest “will be financed by campaign donations from supporters,” according to CNN. This has garnered the attention of some campaign experts who have brought up that this campaign stunt is in possible violation of federal law that inhibits converting campaign funds to personal use.

In an interview with CNN, Adav Noti, a former Federal Election Commission (FEC) lawyer, believes that Yang’s team interprets the law as that they can’t use campaign money for his bills. However, he says that the law prohibits anyone from using campaign money for personal use.

“Although it’s hard to say with 100% certainty until we know the details of the payouts, on its face Yang’s proposal to use campaign money to help pay the day-to-day expenses of selected people appears to violate the law,” Noti told CNN.

Even despite these concerns, Yang remains confident in the legality of his contest, mentioning on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he had “a team of lawyers who signed off on it. We’re sure it’s perfectly legal.” Yang also added the hypocrisy that “nobody would blink an eye” if millions were spent on consultants and a “small army of canvassers,” but the fact that this money is going back to the people is what is raising questions.

Whether the contest is legal or not, a decision is unlikely to be made for quite some time. The FEC who rules on cases such as these has lost its power to make decisions with the resignation of former Chairman Matthew Petersen. This leaves the FEC with just three members and they need “at least four members to take significant action,” according to CNN.

Outside of this question of legality, Yang believes this contest will provide data into how Americans would use this money, and campaign manager Zach Graumann believes that the stories it will create will help the campaign moving forward.

“The campaign is excited to work together with our supporters to help create more stories about what the Freedom Dividend means for American families. It will enable and empower citizens to pay their bills, switch jobs, take care of loved ones, and plan for the future,” said Graumann in a news release.

While no definite conclusion has been made, if legal, this would set a new precedent for campaigns moving forward and create a new path forward for the candidates of the future.

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