FEC: candidates can be filmed, not paid, for reality TV

A Congressional candidate running as a Republican in New York City was approached about being filmed for an Esquire reality series, and asked the Federal Election Commission if he and his staff could appear and be paid for their appearances. The answer, in short, was yes and no, respectively.

Nick Di Iorio’s campaign manager made the request, which said the show will be “exploring the motivations, trials and tribulations of some candidates running in races considered unwinnable.” After the draft advisory opinion was released July 21 and opened to public comment, his campaign manager withdrew the request.

While this request has been withdrawn, and had not yet been approved by the FEC itself, the arguments would presumably apply to any future reality TV star who wanted to run for office, or any candidate who wanted to be filmed for a reality TV show.

Here’s what the FEC said in its response:

“Yes, the candidate and his Committee staff may be filmed for the reality television show, but they may not receive payment for doing so.

The Act and Commission regulations provide that candidates and political committees may not knowingly receive from a corporation any “contribution,” which includes “anything of value” given for the purpose of influencing a federal election or given by a corporation to a candidate or campaign committee in connection with a federal election.”

The FEC notes that because the show won’t air until after the election, “the filming, advertising, and airing of the show probably would not be things of value to the campaign,” but cites scenarios in which that would not be the case, “such as if Mr. Di Iorio is elected to Congress in 2014 and the show airs during his 2016 campaign.”

While arguing that payment for appearance on the show would be considered campaign contributions, the FEC says that the network itself “would be acting as a press entity in conducting the activity at issue”:

“Esquire satisfies all necessary criteria to be considered a press entity and would be acting in its press function in airing the proposed television show. As a result, even if the filming and airing of the show were to constitute things of value to the campaign, the Commission concludes that those activities (as described in the request) would be permissible because they would not be contributions under the Act or Commission regulations.”

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.