Complaint: Kid Rock breaking campaign law

Melissa Nann Burke, and Michael Gerstein

Washington — The group Common Cause says Robert Ritchie, aka Kid Rock, has violated federal election law all summer by acting like a Senate candidate, while failing to register his candidacy or comply with rules on campaign contributions.

In a complaint filed Friday with the Federal Election Commission and U.S. Department of Justice, Common Cause also targets the record label Warner Bros., saying it is also breaking the law by facilitating and acting as a conduit for contributions to Ritchie’s Republican campaign. Corporations are prohibited by law from acting as conduits for contributions to federal candidates.

“He has made it abundantly clear at the very least that he is seriously considering running for Senate,” said Paul S. Ryan, the group’s vice president for policy and litigation. “Kid Rock isn’t a comedian. This is not a joke. The fact that it’s not a joke is reflected by the political establishment.”

Ryan argues the fact that he’s selling ‘Kid Rock for Senate’ merchandise without a doubt makes him a candidate under current FEC rules.

“This is campaign finance law 101,” Ryan said.

Ritchie responded by lashing out at what he called “fake news” from the “misinformed press.” While he did not address any of the actual allegations in the complaint, he said the media should “go f--- themselves.”

“...I have still not officially announced my candidacy,” he said in his blog post.

Skeptics argue that Ritchie’s “campaign” is a marketing ploy, but the 46-year-old Clarkston resident said on his blog in late July that he’s exploring a “very possible campaign” for Senate to challenge Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing, who is seeking a fourth term.

Ryan said Ritchie can’t reasonably claim to be merely exploring a run for U.S. Senate in Michigan and, thus, be exempt from federal filing requirements.

Ritchie has a campaign website, kidrockforsenate, where he links to a Warner Bros. page selling campaign shirts, hats, yard signs and stickers that say, “Kid Rock for US Senate.”

Underneath all of the merchandise on the site, it states, “All proceeds go to voter registration efforts. This is not a political contribution.”

Ritchie said in his July 27 blog post that money raised “at this time” through the sale of merchandise associated with his Senate website will go toward an organization he plans to start to promote voter registration.

He also has started a Twitter account with the handle @KidRockSenator, which promotes his campaign merchandise. The complaint highlights a July 29 tweet that said, “Donate to the campaign! Get your gear! #PoliticsNation,” which posted with an image of “KID ROCK FOR US SENATE” merchandise.

“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,” Ryan said.

In its complaint, Common Cause says it believes Ritchie received or spent more than $5,000 through the purchase or sale of the “Kid Rock for US Senate” merchandise via the website.

That would trigger the requirement under federal election law that candidates for office register with the FEC within 15 days of surpassing the $5,000 threshold for contributions or spending.

It’s unclear what Ritchie has spent or received, since he hasn’t filed a campaign finance statement.

The complaint also quotes the FEC’s campaign guide for candidates. The guide says certain activities — such as authorizing a statement referring to themselves as a candidate, like “Smith for Senate” — indicate that an individual has decided to become a candidate, as opposed to testing the waters for a campaign.

Common Cause wants the FEC and DOJ to investigate Ritchie’s campaign and to impose sanctions for any violations of the law.

Last month, the head of a super political action committee aligned with Senate GOP leadership encouraged Ritchie to run, saying his group would “actually be very interested in his candidacy.”

“I certainly wouldn’t count him out,” Steven Law, president of the Senate Leadership Fund, said on C-SPAN. “If you’re watching, Kid, we hope you run.”

Other candidates for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate include businesswoman Lena Epstein of Bloomfield Hills, who was Trump’s Michigan campaign co-chair; former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bob Young Jr. of Laingsburg; and businessman and military veteran John James of Farmington Hills.

Ryan said trying to skirt campaign finance rules by denying candidacy stretches back as far as Ronald Reagan. The California Republican created a legal entity to raise money outside of candidacy limits before jumping into the Republican primary to challenge President Gerald Ford in 1976.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush pulled a similar move before he ran in the 2016 GOP primary and raised $110 million outside of federal candidacy limits while denying that he was a candidate, said Ryan, who filed a complaint against Bush with the FEC.

The complaint is still pending.