Watchdog group: Kid Rock could be breaking campaign finance law

Watchdog group: Kid Rock could be breaking campaign finance law
© Getty

Kid Rock's flirtation with a Senate bid might be violating campaign finance law, according to an ethics complaint filed on Friday by a liberal-leaning watchdog group. 

The Michigan musician, whose real name is Robert Ritchie, has been teasing a potential Senate bid for weeks and selling T-shirts adorned with his would-be campaign logo and the words "Kid Rock for Senate." 

That could run afoul with campaign finance law, Common Cause's Paul S. Ryan said.  

“Regardless of whether Kid Rock says he’s only exploring candidacy, he’s selling ‘Kid Rock for Senate’ merchandise and is a candidate under the law. This is campaign finance law 101,” said Ryan, vice president for policy and litigation at the watchdog group. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“He can’t reasonably claim to be merely testing the waters of candidacy and thus exempt from candidate filing requirements. He is a candidate and is obligated to abide by all the rules and make the same disclosures required of everyone else running for federal office.”

Ritchie has been floating a potential bid against Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine - Will there be any last-minute shutdown drama? Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by America's 340B Hospitals — Utah tests Trump on Medicaid expansion | Dems roll out Medicare buy-in proposal | Medicare for all could get hearing next month | Doctors group faces political risks on guns Dems offer smaller step toward ‘Medicare for all' MORE (D-Mich.) throughout the summer, musing about his potential bid in statements on his website and retweeting polling that shows him clearing the primary field.  

Many Republicans believe he'd be the party's best shot at winning the uphill battle for Stabenow's seat, but are skeptical he is taking the idea of launching a campaign seriously.  

Federal candidates have to collect personal information of all of their donors who contribute more than $50 at a time, and disclose that information to the Federal Election Commission for donors who give more than $200 in aggregate. They also have to abide by federal donation limits and prohibitions. Election law says a person becomes a candidate when they've either spent or raised $5,000 or declared themselves an active candidate.  

Potential candidates are allowed to forgo those requirements as long as they are genuinely "testing the waters" and haven't decided on whether to run. But as soon as they make definitive steps toward being a candidate, they are required to file their candidacy with the Federal Election Commission and follow those disclosure rules, as well as retroactively disclose their "testing the waters" spending.  

These rules are rarely enforced, but the complaint could be a thorn in Ritchie's side as he decides whether to speed up his decision-making process or ignore it. 

The complaint specifically cites the Federal Election Commission's candidate guidance, which calls statements like "Smith for Senate" statements that "indicate that the individual has decided to become a candidate." Since a Ritchie-affiliated nonprofit is selling those shirts, and it's likely that selling those shirts has either cost Ritchie or earned Ritchie at least $5,000, Common Cause believes he's an official candidate. 

The group also points to various statements that Ritchie has made about his polling numbers and calls to donate to his "campaign" as actions triggering federal campaign finance oversight. 

On top of charges leveled against Ritchie, Common Cause claims that Warner Brothers Records is "facilitating" the rock star's illegal activities.