It Takes a Fine Public Servant to Bake a Tasty Apple Pie

The Federal Election Commission has imposed a $30,000 fine on a South Florida businessman for advertising his bakery while running for Congress. Jim Stork, owner of Stork's Bakery and Café, which has locations in Wilton Manors and Fort Lauderdale, was a Democratic candidate for Congress in the summer of 2004, when he ran ads for his business on cable TV and sent coupons to local residents. Here is how Stork's "conciliation agreement" with the FEC (PDF) describes the TV spots:

In each advertisement, the candidate stated, "I'm Jim Stork. Come find out why Stork's Bakery and Café means quality you can trust." None of the advertisements stated that Mr. Stork was a candidate and [they] made no reference to any election. The advertisements featured the products available at the Bakery and Café with background images of customers seated at tables or standing within the Bakery and Café premises.

The FEC nevertheless concluded that the commercials and the mailings—which "included photographs of Mr. Stork under which his name was printed," along with "location and business hours information" and offers of "discounts or prizes to customers who made purchases at the Stork bakeries"—constituted illegal corporate donations to his campaign. Stork, the former mayor of Wilton Manors, claimed he was simply trying to promote his newly opened Fort Lauderdale location. But even if we accept the FEC's interpretation, how bizarre is it that someone would have to go to such lengths to engage in political speech with money from his own business? As The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto puts it, the Supreme Court's rulings upholding campaign finance restrictions have created a situation where "Eat at Joe's" is protected speech but "Vote for Joe" isn't. 

[Thanks to John Kluge for the tip.]

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  • ||

    The irony of is that Mr. Stork had health issues and dropped out of the race before the election.

    It's also pretty interesting when you contrast this FEC decision with this one:

    The Federal Election Commission, in a party-line vote, has overruled a recommendation by its counsel to fine a U.S. Chamber of Commerce group accused of illegal spending practices in attacking the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004.

    ...

    The November Fund was accused of violating federal campaign spending limits by using $3 million it received from the chamber to attack Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards, a former trial lawyer, in 2004. The FEC deadlock in the November Fund case was announced last week.

    ...

    The commission initially agreed in March 2005 that the November Fund illegally accepted contributions in excess of the $5,000 limit for political action committees and that the chamber made illegal corporate contributions. In November 2007, the commission authorized its counsel to negotiate a settlement, including an agreed-upon fine.

    New Members

    Four new members joined the commission the following year, and in October 2008 the three Republicans balked at approving the final agreement.

    "The law has not changed," Ryan said. "All that has changed is the commissioners themselves.


  • Gene Berkman||

    Back in the early 1990s, there was a young man running for some local council in Riverside County. His family owned a hardware store, so he ran ads on cable tv that included 30 seconds plugging his campaign, and the second half would be an ad for the family business. I thought it was neat.

    When I ran for Congress in the 1990s, I always included an add for Renaissance Bookshop on my campaign brochures. The bookshop was my campaign hq anyway, and I could only afford to run if I could promote my business.

    You might think the Feds are down on free enterprise, from reading this decision.

  • Brian||

    The FEC is just protecting us by dutifully ensuring that only career politicians are able to run for public office. Can you imagine the chaos that might ensue, were ordinary businessmen and common members of society allowed to both run for office and live normal lives?! Why, we might end up with Representatives or even -- perish the thought -- Senators without their heads completely up their asses. No, it's much better that those jobs be left only to people that can take two year off from their life just to be considered.

  • oat willie||

    "No, it's much better that those jobs be left only to people that can take two year off from their life just to be considered."

    Or you could be well connected and get a job with a business which allows you to run for office while drawing a paycheck. I know one politician who was able to do that and I figure he is the tip of the iceberg.

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