Cities 527

Rock gets rolled into federal campaign guidelines

Going to rock concerts just isn't the same in the swift boat era of political fundraising. Take the Vote for Change tour, which brings Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M., John Fogerty, and Bright Eyes to the Xcel Energy Center on October 5. The event is a benefit for America Coming Together (ACT), a nonprofit voter-registration group that, while officially unaffiliated with John Kerry's presidential campaign, is explicitly dedicated to defeating George W. Bush in November, and shares with Kerry a key local fundraiser, Sam Kaplan.

Like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, in other words, ACT is a 527, referring to the tax code governing such organizations, and any tickets purchased for the Boss in St. Paul are considered political contributions.

Blue state red tape: Legal concerns forced Cities 97 to discontinue a Bruce Springsteen ticket giveaway
Pam Springsteen
Blue state red tape: Legal concerns forced Cities 97 to discontinue a Bruce Springsteen ticket giveaway

But mixing rock and fundraising has proven to be a crash course in campaign finance law for promoters and fans alike. Ticketmaster customers, for instance, were required to check a box stating, "You are a United States citizen or permanent resident alien" and "You are making this contribution on behalf of yourself as an individual, and not on behalf of a corporation," before purchasing tickets online. (A similar stipulation appears on the fundraising page of ACT's website.)

Meanwhile, Clear Channel-owned Cities 97 (KTCZ-FM) was forced to pull the plug on ticket giveaways for the show after learning that Chicago-based Jam Productions, the concert's promoter, had determined that they couldn't buy tickets for the station because such a purchase would be illegal under federal law.

"We went into it like we do with every concert," says Cities program director Lauren MacLeash. "Jam was unable to buy tickets for us to give away, as was Warner Bros., R.E.M.'s label, because they are companies. We had to call the listeners back with egg on our face and apologize. We told them we would take care of them with tickets to another show of their choice, and they seemed cool with that."

"I just know that's what we were instructed," says Katherine Swedberg at the local Jam office. "You cannot, as a corporation, purchase tickets to a political fundraiser."

But Cities 97 and Jam are wrong about the law. 527s have been a funnel for corporate money into politics ever since the Federal Election Commission decided not to regulate them in May. "There is nothing that prevents Clear Channel from giving money to a 527 organization," says David Schultz, a professor of political science and law at Hamline University. "We know that under federal law, corporations can't give money to directly affect the outcome of an election. But 527s are not aligned with any political party."

The confusion stems from the fact that America Coming Together is both a 527 and a PAC (political action committee), and that its activities as a PAC are federally regulated.

"The reason corporations and labor organizations cannot buy tickets through Ticketmaster is because the account that is set up with Ticketmaster is with our federal account, our PAC account," says Sarah Leonard, a national spokeswoman for ACT. "Our 527 account is our 'nonfederal' account, which can take unlimited amounts of money from labor organizations, corporations, and individuals."

Either way, when I phoned Ticketmaster to purchase tickets for the Vote for Change tour, the guy on the other end of the line told me that once I bought tickets, I could do whatever I wanted with them. If I bought a batch of seats on behalf of City Pages, owned by Village Voice Media, Inc., these were mine to give away.

Unfortunately, at press time, the only seats available were the "obstructed view" ones behind the stage.

 
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