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April 25, 2014

A Contracting Company Ad … for Congress? | #MN06

Former state Rep. Tom Emmer, a Republican running in a crowded primary to replace retiring Rep. Michele Bachmann in Minnesota, may have violated campaign finance rules by appearing in a local contracting company’s television advertisement.

In the ad, Emmer identifies himself as a congressional candidate, stands in front of his campaign sign, then provides a glowing testimonial for a general contracting company located in the 6th District. The ad appeared on local cable channels in the district, according to Blue Stem Prairie, a left-leaning blog in Minnesota.

Emmer has since asked that the ad be taken off the air, saying he did not intend for the testimonial to be a spot for his campaign, according to the Minnesota Pioneer Press.

But federal campaign finance rules are clear about this: A candidate cannot personally advocate for their campaign in an ad paid for by a corporation. If someone files a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Emmer — and that’s likely, given that Democrats think his race could be competitive — both his campaign and the contracting company could be fined, according to Neil Reiff, a lawyer specializing in campaign finance law.

“This ad certainly pushes the limit on what would be deemed a corporate in-kind,” Reiff said. “If the commission has four votes to agree that this constitutes as a campaign ad, the campaign and the company can be looking at a fine.”

Kenneth A. Gross, a lawyer who specializes in campaign law, said it is unlikely the FEC will take action because Emmer took swift measures to stop the ad from airing. “The FEC takes notice of immediate corrective action,” Gross said.

Last cycle, Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., found himself in a similar situation after he was accused of using advertising for his plumbing company to promote his campaign. The FEC dropped the case and did not issue an advisory opinion after commissioners couldn’t agree whether the ads were electioneering communications.

Emmer, who was a 2010 gubernatorial candidate, is widely seen as the front-runner in the field of at least three Republican candidatesMinnesota’s 6th District is rated a Safe Republican contest by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.

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