The Obama campaign has yet another fundraising scandal to deal with today. This time it’s under fire for selling hideously ugly designer merchandise (seriously, that Beyonce t-shirt looks like something you’d make at day camp) at low, low prices on its website. According to the Wall Street Journal, Obama may be in violation of campaign finance laws for selling these clothes and handbags created for him gratis by celebrities and designers:
Jan Baran, an election lawyer with Wiley Rein LLP, said designers can’t ask employees to work on political projects unless they willingly volunteered their time. “Someone who is paid to do campaign work is not a volunteer,” he said. If the designer or staff are paid by anyone other than the campaign, it would be considered a campaign contribution from a company to a candidate.
The Obama campaign said the gear complies with campaign-finance rules.
“All of the designers volunteered their personal time to create these great designs,” the campaign said, and were “not underwritten with any corporate funds.”
To be honest, there doesn’t seem to be much meat to this scandal. Celebrities and designers create campaign merchandise for politicians all the time. In 2008, a lot of the same designers in the WSJ piece made handbags and clothes that were sold at similarly low prices in Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s campaign stores. So it doesn’t sound like Obama’s violating any campaign finance laws here.
But that also depends on where the merchandise was manufactured. If the shirts and bags were simply designed by Derek Lam and Diane von Furstenberg, but manufactured elsewhere by companies paid by the Obama campaign, that would probably be within the rules. But if the merchandise was manufactured by companies not compensated by the Obama campaign, that could be a problem.
That said, the story does play into narratives that Obama’s out of touch with the middle class, that he’s buddy-buddy with obnoxious celebrities, and that his campaign isn’t the grassroots-driven operation he makes it out to be. It’s especially problematic coming for him on a day when his flip-flop on Super PACs is all over the news.