Finley: Can Kid Rock rock and run?
If Kid Rock actually gets into the U.S. Senate race, would he have to stop rocking?
Probably not. But he’d have to be awfully careful about keeping his concerts and his campaign separate, lest he run afoul of federal election law.
The Michigan rocker, aka Robert Ritchie, has teased an entry into the 2018 Republican Senate primary to pick a challenger to Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow.
Early polls are encouraging. One published in The Detroit News last week had Kid Rock trailing Stabenow by just 8 percentage points, and he hasn’t even announced his candidacy.
The possibility of having the music world’s version of Donald Trump on their ticket next year has GOP officials atwitter. They believe he can turn out the angry white vote that was instrumental in delivering Michigan for the president in 2016.
I don’t think Kid Rock runs. He’s just about to kick off a major concert tour and, believe it or not, that’s a more lucrative gig even than the U.S. Senate.
But should he jump, a big wall would be required between Kid Rock the bad ass rocker and Robert Ritchie the U.S. Senate candidate.
While the concert stage might be a tempting campaign platform, Kid Rock won’t be able to use it as freely as he’d like.
“If he’s engaged in his active form of employment, and doesn’t engage in active political campaigning, it’s OK,” says John Pirich, one of the state’s top election attorneys. “If he passes the hat at a concert, he’d cross the line. If he displays campaign material and asks for votes, he’d cross the line.”
But Pirich of Honigman says the line could get fuzzy. What if he incorporates campaign themes into his songs? Or holds VIP post-concert fundraisers? Or goes on an anti-establishment rant on the stage?
“If he just sings ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ great,” Pirich says. “But beyond that, it starts to get tight.”
Charging fans for a concert that fronts for a campaign rally would definitely get Kid Rock crossways of the Federal Elections Commission, which could fine him for infractions.
Dennis Lennox, a Michigan Republican strategist, suggests Kid Rock hold free concerts across the state to excite supporters. With no entry charge, restrictions on the political messaging would be less.
But even then, Kid Rock would have to square things with the FEC.
Since singing is how he makes a living, his appearance at a political concert would be considered an in-kind contribution to his own campaign. He’d have to assign a value to his singing and report it.
Pirich sees similarities in Kid Rock’s situation to that of Geoffrey Fieger, who ran commercials promoting his law firm while weighing a run for governor in 1998. The Bernstein family did the same for son Richard leading up to his successful bid for the state Supreme Court in 2014.
So could Kid Rock tout his character and qualifications during his six upcoming concerts at Detroit’s new Little Caesars Arena without mentioning the Senate bid?
“The action words are ‘vote for me’ or anything that sounds like it,” Pirich says. But avoiding a direct pitch would require tremendous restraint from the unrestrained rocker.
If he runs, Kid Rock may find exploiting his celebrity and fan base won’t be as easy as it seems.
Nolan Finley’s book, “Little Red Hen: A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice,” is available from Amazon, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble Nook.