Opinion: Group tried to punish Kid Rock for faux campaign

Stephen Klein

If you hear “campaign finance reform,” you have about a 90 percent chance of being in favor of it, according to years of polling data. And why shouldn’t you? It’s a pleasant term bolstered by plenty of other vague platitudes like transparency, fighting corruption, and even saving our republic. But there are plenty of reasons to oppose “reform,” and Michiganians need look no further than Common Cause’s effort to punish Detroit superstar Kid Rock for his clever campaign parody in 2017.

"Kid Rock’ made it clear that he was only exploring a “possible campaign” and all of the money raised would go to voter registration efforts."

Kid Rock launched a website and sold merchandise including t-shirts, yard signs and bumper stickers emblazoned with “Kid Rock for U.S. Senate.” Some in the press took this sentiment literally, and politicos even included Rock in some Michigan polls, where he actually ranked first place for a time. It helped sell quite a few concert tickets.

However, from the outset of the gimmick, Rock’s website made it clear that he was only exploring a “possible campaign” and, more importantly, that all of the money raised from selling this merchandise would go strictly to voter registration efforts. Common Cause, one of many campaign finance groups in D.C., was well aware of this, but filed a complaint against Rock with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and another with the Department of Justice.

Campaign finance law is primarily about transparency, but is rightfully limited to tracking actual campaign funds. Kid told everyone where the money was going, and spending on voter registration in this fashion is not campaign funding, because registration is open to everyone, whether they support Republicans, Democrats, or any candidate of any persuasion. If Common Cause had bothered to do a little effort beyond searching the internet, it would have noticed voter registration efforts occurring at Rock’s concerts in Indiana, Michigan, and Tennessee.

Another problem with the complaint is that it didn’t even pass the free speech smell test. Groups like Common Cause claim to fight corruption, but there is nothing pure about filing a complaint with the Feds based on selective quotes that, even if true, were nothing more than someone simply saying he was running for office. Common Cause's complaint reveals the downside that political opponents can use these kinds of law to punish citizens. This is hardly an isolated incident: most campaign finance complaints are politically motivated.

Thousands of pages of laws, regulations, and agency opinions are no way to increase political participation or get money out: at best, the money just goes to the lawyers and accountants.

Kid Rock gets it. Just look at one of the lines from his faux campaign: “I believe if you work your butt off and pay taxes, you should be able to easily understand and navigate the laws, tax codes, health care and anything else the government puts in place that affects us all.”

The Common Cause clown car putters on, perhaps with 90% approval, but citizens should be wary of the stark realities of campaign finance “reform.”

Stephen Klein is a partner in the law firm Statecraft PLLC in Washington, DC. He is a member of the Michigan State Bar