Kanye West Spoiler Run: Law Professors Weigh In On Legality
There’s a lot of speculation on Kanye West’s presidential campaign. Specifically, because the campaign is so intertwined with the Trump campaign, there’s a question of whether his run could be intended to draw support away from Joe Biden in order to improve Donald Trump’s chances. Now law professors are weighing in on whether Kanye is breaking election laws, and what consequences he could face if so.
Election law expert and law professor Rick Hasen weighed in on Election Law Blog. He warns that it’s not illegal to run an election campaign for the sole purpose of helping another candidate win, in and of itself. However, there’s another aspect of Kanye’s run that could be breaking campaign finance laws. That’s the coordination with the Trump campaign.
In short, Hasen says that it’s legal to directly contribute up to $2,800 to a candidate, and to spend as much as you’d like supporting him yourself — so you could spend all you liked buying billboards and ad campaigns, for example, or mounting your own presidential run, to help another candidate win, as long as you were not coordinating this with that candidate and/or his campaign.
That’s where Hasen says Kanye may have gone wrong — he’s met with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and there are multiple connections and shared contacts between West’s campaign and Trump’s. In other words, if Kanye could be demonstrated to have spent more than $2,800 on his campaign, with the intention of helping Trump win, and done so in coordination with the Trump campaign, he could be in violation of campaign finance laws.
However, Hasen gives a pretty hefty disclaimer:
But this is a really odd situation, and I cannot think of a case in which a candidate has been found to make an excessive contribution to another candidate by coordinating a spoiler run for office. I’m not sure how authorities would treat such a case, which would get into some difficult questions of motive.
His final note is that campaign finance violations require intent — so if Kanye isn’t aware that the actions are illegal, he likely wouldn’t face consequences even if all of the above was sufficiently proven. However, the Trump campaign might not get off as easily.
Whether Kushner and the Trump campaign could also be found to have engaged in illegal activity seems easier given that this campaign has a large legal staff.
Another law professor, Laurence Tribe, who also has the distinction of having taught President Barack Obama, weighed in more briefly on Twitter, sharing Hasen’s legal opinion. Tribe’s view is less nuanced — he’s certain that there’s a campaign finance violation.
Of course @kanyewest is breaking the law by pretending to run for President. His motives couldn’t be more obvious. So are Trump’s & Kushner’s behind-the-scenes roles. The law may be dumb. But it’s not THAT dumb. https://t.co/YdwbeM5G60
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) August 13, 2020
It’s not the only allegation of illegal activity Kanye West’s campaign is facing, though. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, complaints have been filed saying that Kanye’s Wisconsin documentation included fake signatures. A candidate in Wisconsin must submit 2,000 supporting signatures to get on the ballot, and Kanye submitted 2,400 — but they allegedly included such names as Mickey Mouse and Bernie Sanders, among other fakes. They also include two separate signatures of Kanye’s own name. Some of the real signatures were also allegedly obtained under false pretenses — one signer, for instance, said that she was asked to sign to be sure she was registered to vote, and was unaware that the document had anything to do with Kanye’s campaign.
However, as spoilers go, polls suggest that Kanye’s — if that’s his intent — may be a full-fledged failure, regardless of whether he’s ever determined to have broken any laws. In recent polls, he only netted about 2% of voter support, and only 2% of Black voters’ support — and Biden’s lead on Trump was the same whether or not Kanye was included in the data.