President Barack Obama’s campaign may be responsible for subsidizing the town of Durham, New Hampshire for the cost of today’s campaign stop, an election lawyer told BuzzFeed. As the Boston Globe reported, Obama’s event is costing the town an estimated $20,000-$30,000, which prompted an anonymous donor to offer to pay for up to $20,000 of these expenses.
“My opinion is that these extra expenses are the responsibility of the Obama campaign or the US government to pay,” said Arent Fox's Craig Engle, calling into question the legality of the anonymous donor’s contribution. “A third party who is attempting to pay one entity for the political expenses of another entity raises an FEC question.”
According to the Federal Election Commission’s newsletter on third party payments from March 2012, “A third party’s payment of a candidate’s expenses that would otherwise be deemed ‘personal use’ is considered a contribution by the third party, unless the payment would have been made ‘irrespective of the candidacy.’”
However, Engle said that this provision does not directly apply.
“The commission has it right in that a third party cannot defray a political candidate’s expenses. But this is not a personal use question, as the FEC’s answer suggests, but more a defraying of clearer campaign costs,” Engle said in response to the regulation.
If the Obama campaign were to decide to subsidize Durham for the Campaign stop, it would have to be careful about where the money came from, Engle said.
“Even if they don't have to pay it, the expense incurred is obviously in connection with an election. So that means it has to be paid for with hard money, such as from the DNC. The anonymous donor should contribute to the DNC and then the DNC can pay the town back,” Engle said.