Andrew Yang’s campaign launches $1,000-per-month giveaway — but it could be against the law

Andrew Yang’s campaign launches $1,000-per-month giveaway — but it could be against the law
Andrew Yang image via campaign

Before Thursday night’s Democratic presidential debate in Houston, one of the candidates, tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, announced that he would have a major surprise — and during the debate, he explained what the surprise was: his campaign is randomly selecting ten U.S. families and give them $1,000 a month. The move is being described as everything from clever to silly.


But among experts on election law, it is being described as possibly illegal.

Campaign finance law in the United States prohibits the use of campaign funds for personal expenses. In Yang’s case, legal experts are weighing whether the giveaway constitutes a personal expense or can be justified as a campaign expense.

Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and expert on election law, told the Washington Post that “if the regulations were a rubber band,” Yang’s giveaway “would be stretching it to its extreme.”

But a spokesperson for Yang’s campaign is quoted in the Post as saying that the giveaway is a legitimate campaign expense because the $1,000-per-month payments are “being made to further the goals of the campaign.” And Yang’s campaign says it checked with legal counsel before offering the giveaway and was told that it was OK.

Using campaign donations for something unrelated to a campaign is a felony; for example, when prosecutors accused Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter and his wife of violating campaign finance law, they alleged that campaign funds had been illegally used for everything from family vacations to theater tickets. And Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, is serving three years in federal prison for, among other things, campaign finance violations.

Adav Noti, a former attorney for the Federal Election Commission who is now with the Campaign Legal Center, told the Post that in order to “maintain donors’ faith in the system, it’s important that they have some reasonable level of certainty” that their money is being used strictly for campaign purposes and “and not on somebody’s car payment.” According to Noti, that’s something to keep in mind where Yang’s giveaway is concerned.

The money that recipients of the giveaway would receive would almost certainly use it for personal purposes, and legal experts say that could be an issue.

According to the New York Times, Paul Seamus Ryan (vice president of Common Cause) considers the giveaway potentially problematic. Ryan is quoted in the Times as saying, “Andrew Yang’s use of campaign funds to give ‘freedom dividends’ to supporters would push the boundaries of, and perhaps break, campaign finance law. This unprecedented use of campaign funds would give rise to a bunch of novel legal questions.”

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card

Close

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.