CLARK AFOUL OF CAMPAIGN LAWS

WaPo reports,

Retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark may have violated federal election laws by discussing his presidential campaign during recent paid appearances, according to campaign finance experts.

Clark, a newcomer to presidential politics, touted his candidacy during paid appearances at DePauw University in Indiana and other campuses after he entered the presidential race on Sept. 17. Under the laws governing the financing of presidential campaigns, candidates cannot be paid by corporations, labor unions, individuals or even universities for campaign-related events. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) considers such paid political appearances akin to a financial contribution to a candidate.

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Larry Noble, a former FEC general counsel who heads the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, said Clark’s speeches are “problematic” because “the insertion of campaign-related items into his speech can turn it into a campaign speech.” If so, the paid appearances would amount to “illegal contributions,” Noble said.

“If somebody is going to get involved in a presidential campaign, they need to know the rules,” Noble said.

William Oldaker, Clark’s general counsel, said the retired general did not run afoul of FEC laws because Clark “is not attempting through those speeches to specifically . . . influence his election.”

Oldaker said Clark only “incidentally” mentioned his candidacy in the speeches, and, therefore, the purpose of his appearances had nothing to do with his presidential campaign.

I’m willing to grant that any violation of the law by Clark here was incidental and likely unknowing. It seems to me that the real story here is the idiocy of the law itself. Clark makes his living exploiting his celebrity with these paid appearances. His celebrity has been enhanced rather significantly by virtue of his presidential campaign. So, really, enforcement of the law here not only seems to violate the spirit of the First Amendment but it amounts to a restraint of trade.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.