Last month, Kid Rock gave us the first microscopic sigh of relief we’ve had this year, by announcing that he was no longer considering a Senate run in Michigan. Or as he put it, “Fuck no, I’m not running for Senate. Are you kidding me?” While this might have cleared things up for other Republican hopefuls, Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow, and our collective sanity, it left some unanswered questions about how legal his stunt really was.
BuzzFeed shared a report yesterday which attempted to answer these questions. He sold official-looking campaign merchandise, maintained that he was serious about running, announced plans to launch a 501(c)(4) nonprofit for the promotion of voter registration, and was up-front about using the “media circus to sell/promote whatever I damn well please” (in this case, a new album, which is out today). But things got murky once they investigated to see if the money was really going to a nonprofit:
“All proceeds go to voter registration efforts. This is not a political contribution,” said a disclaimer on the website as recently as Oct. 24, the day Kid Rock said he had never been serious about a campaign. But after BuzzFeed News began making inquiries for this story, the website was updated; the disclaimer has disappeared.
There is no evidence that the 501(c)(4) even exists online, beyond initial news reports that he intended to launch it. Rock’s representative didn’t clarify any information about the 501(c)(4) to BuzzFeed:
A representative for Kid Rock did not respond to multiple inquiries from BuzzFeed News about the merchandise or the 501(c)(4), including what its name was, whether the merchandise proceeds went to the 501(c)(4) or somewhere else, how much money Kid Rock has raised from the campaign merchandise, when and why the website was updated, and whether the 501(c)4 was shut down after he announced he wouldn’t run. Warner Bros. Records initially referred BuzzFeed News to Kid Rock’s representative for comment on the merchandise. In an email on Thursday responding to a follow-up request, a Warner Brothers spokesperson said, “unfortunately Kid Rock is not doing any press at this time.”
However, campaign finance experts tell BuzzFeed that Rock likely never crossed the line of “testing the waters” into actual campaigning. “Given his language … they probably have an argument that, look this guy was never even a candidate,” said Tyler Cole of Issue One, a nonprofit which seeks to reduce money in politics, told BuzzFeed.
But there are obviously still costs to someone like Kid Rock toying with the public, even if he doesn’t actually campaign. As long as celebrities continue to garner political support, it could mean gaslighting qualified would-be lawmakers to the point where they don’t even see a campaign as worthwhile:
“It would be a great shame, I think, if there were suddenly a glut of kind of faux candidates because we really need people to take this seriously, you know, and it is a big commitment to run for office at any level,” Krumholz told BuzzFeed News. “It would be a shame if somebody with instant name recognition would quash their aspirations.”