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.]