Ron Paul joked in yesterday's Washington Post that the Federal Election Commission might have some problems down the line with his uncoordinated shows of support from fans across the country.
Now Kenneth P. Vogel over at Politico analyzes the campaign finance legalities involved in one of the most fanciful projects dreamed up by Paulistas: The Ron Paul Blimp. An excerpt, and I invite any campaign finance lawyers in the Hit and Run family to weigh in on whether these crazy kids will get away with it:
[The blimp] tests the reach of campaign finance rules by employing an innovative funding structure that could expose a new way to pour largely unregulated money into politics. If the model is successful, hypothetically it could allow a media consultant to produce slick attack ads and — without ever disclosing how much was raised or spent — solicit millions from "sponsors" to air the ads in key states…..
As for the money floating the blimp, [Jerry] Collette and [former FEC chair Brad] Smith [the effort's legal advisor] have developed a detailed business plan carefully structured to avoid Byzantine campaign finance laws.
They shunned traditional mechanisms such as creating an independent non-profit group under section 527 of the IRS code — like Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the other groups that spent millions on ads in 2004 — or a political action committee — like EMILY's List. Instead, they went an almost unheard of route, establishing a for-profit company: Liberty Political Advertising…..
…..Instead of soliciting donations like a PAC or a campaign or a non-profit political group, Liberty says it's "selling political advertisements that you can sponsor."
By Friday evening, Liberty had pulled in nearly $150,000…..
Things could get a little tricky, though, since payments of more than $250 to fund the blimp likely will be considered "independent expenditures" that require detailed FEC disclosure reports from Liberty's customers.
….Collette said his company intends to make it painless to comply.
It will automatically produce independent expenditure forms for customers to print, sign and mail, which Collette predicted they'd do because "word has gotten out that this is going to bury the FEC in paperwork for the cost of stamp."
Brad Smith told reason about why FEC regs are a danger to free speech back in our July 2001 issue.