Former state Rep. Tom Emmer, who is seeking the GOP nomination in the 6th Congressional District, has filmed an advertisement for Integrity Exteriors and Remodelers. In the ad, Emmer touts his congressional candidacy and endorses the construction firm.
“If you’re looking for someone to do remodeling, siding or general construction, residential or commercial, I can tell you without qualification you need to call the folks at Integrity Exteriors and Remodelers,” Emmer says in the spot. “They’re the best.”
The ad was posted on youtube on September 26. The endorsement raises concerns about whether such a gesture runs afoul of campaign finance rules.
In a statement, Emmer’s campaign indicated that the endorsement was not intended for commercial use.
“Integrity Exteriors and Remodelers did a wonderful job on the build out of the Emmer for Congress Campaign Office that we are now leasing in Otsego,” said David FitzSimmons, a spokesman for Emmer’s campaign. “They asked Tom for a testimonial of the work they did and he was more than happy to support a local business out of Elk River. It was not Tom’s intention for this testimonial to be used in a broadcast capacity or advertisement for the campaign and we have asked Integrity to discontinue its use.”
FitzSimmons also said that Emmer and his campaign were not compensated for the endorsement.
Former Federal Elections Commission general counsel Larry Noble said the possibility of the ad running afoul of campaign finance regulations would depend on the financial arrangements made between the candidate and the company. To his way of thinking, Emmer’s labeling himself a candidate for office and the appearance of the “Emmer for Congress” sign mean the commercial should qualify as an advertisement for Emmer, and money spent on the ad should be disclosed as a campaign contribution.
Noble, a Democratic appointee who served with the FEC from 1987 to 2000, said the matter would be up to the interpretation of commissioners, but said the ad should attract attention.
“I think the whole thing is very problematic,” Noble said. “There’s a strong argument there, that this clearly raises legal issues, and there’s a strong argument that this is a campaign commercial.”
Bill Allison, editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation in Washington, D.C., said the ad raises red flags for mixing support for a company with support for a campaign.
“It’s really blending the lines between what is proper behavior for a candidate,” Allison said. “Bob Dole only started endorsing Viagra after he was out of Congress, not when he was running for it.”
The medium in which the ad appears is an important factor under federal law.
Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C., said broadcast or print ads are treated as illegal campaign contributions when they are coordinated between a company and a campaign. When it comes to the Internet, however, contributions only apply to ads that are placed for a fee on another person’s website, such as a campaign paying for ads on Google.
“It all hinges on whether or not they paid to air it somewhere or whether they just threw it up for free on their own website or YouTube or another similar web platform. That will be the distinguishing legal factor,” Ryan said.
Campaign filings for the third quarter are due to the Federal Election Commission on Sept. 15.
It is not the first instance in which Emmer has appeared in a commercial for a business. He previously touted Renters Warehouse in an infomercial. But that advertisement made no mention of his congressional campaign and originally appeared prior to his candidacy.
Reached by PIM, Emmer referred questions to his campaign office. “I’m busy right now. I’ll have to call you back,” Emmer said. “Give my office a call out in Otsego. I’m really sorry, but I’m trying to do some end of the quarter stuff today.”
Emmer is among four GOP candidates seeking to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in Minnesota’s most conservative congressional district.
Staff writers Mike Mullen and Charley Shaw contributed to this post