Congressional candidate Tom Emmer provided a video testimonial for a construction company in which he says, “Hi, I’m Tom Emmer, and I’m running for Congress . . . . If you’re looking for someone to do remodeling, siding or general construction . . . you need to call the folks at Integrity Exteriors and Remodelers. They’re the best.” (Star Tribune).
A lawyer at the Campaign Legal Center commented that “If this thing ran on TV, this is an illegal, corporate in-kind contribution to a candidate for federal office, in the form of a coordinated ad.”
Coordination is problematic in this context because, while a company can engage in “independent expenditures” in support of a candidate, companies cannot donate directly to candidates or campaigns—and coordinated expenditures are deemed direct contributions. Because Mr. Emmer was clearly involved in the creation of the ad, and because he discussed that he was running for office, the testimonial commercial may have provided direct value to the campaign in violation of federal election law.
The campaign maintains that the commercial was an advertisement for the construction company, not Mr. Emmer’s campaign. The problem is that Mr. Emmer mentioned his candidacy, and because informing voters that the candidate is running for office is a key campaign goal, the commercial arguably helped the campaign.
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While these issues are relatively straight-forward in hindsight, Mr. Emmer clearly did not think about them when he agreed to do the testimonial. This story shows how easy it is to accidentally run afoul of election laws, and thus how important it is for every campaign to have an election law attorney.