Kanye West Is Breaking Campaign Finance Law and Keeping His GOP Backers a Secret

By not filing campaign finance forms with the Federal Election Commission, West's campaign is hiding expenditures from public view.
August 27, 2020, 4:57pm
Kanye West speaks during a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval office of the White House on October 11, 2018 in Washington, DC.

Kanye West’s presidential campaign continues to push to get him on the ballot in states across the country. But it’s now a full week late with its campaign finance filings, a move that’s allowing the shadowy organization to hide how deep the GOP efforts to back his spoiler campaign go.

The monthly campaign finance filing was due with the Federal Election Commission on August 20. But West’s campaign still hasn’t submitted the paperwork, a requirement for all presidential candidates that planned to raise or spend at least $100,000 on the campaign.

West filed a statement of candidacy in mid-July, and Republican operatives have helped secure him a spot on ballots in at least nine states, even as he’s missed deadlines in more than two dozen others. All that effort means his campaign almost certainly was legally required to file a monthly finance report that would show who he was paying — and give a more complete picture of what GOP operatives are supporting his campaign. 

“He’s either violating the reporting requirements or doesn’t anticipate to spend $100,000 or more on his presidential campaign, and the latter part seems unlikely,” said Paul S. Ryan, the head of litigation at the good government group Common Cause. “He’s missed an FEC reporting deadline on August 20 and is in [likely] violation of the law.”

It’s almost certain that West’s campaign has spent $100,000 on the campaign already. Just qualifying for the ballot in Oklahoma cost $35,000, and West has been paying operatives in a bevy of states in his haphazard efforts to appear on their 2020 ballots.

West has missed the ballot in roughly 30 states including the key swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. He’s so far managed to qualify for the ballot in only nine states, most of them states where ballot access is particularly easy: Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah and Vermont.

The only states where he’s definitely on the ballot and could potentially impact the presidential race are Colorado, Iowa and Minnesota — none of which appear to be central battlegrounds in the Trump-Biden fight.

But that doesn’t mean West is a non-factor. He’s reportedly likely to sue to try to get back on the ballot in Wisconsin. And he’s gunning to get on the ballot in Arizona, another crucial swing state. West’s campaign has been paying people to collect the 37,000 valid signatures it needs in that state ahead of its early September deadline.

All that signature-gathering effort costs a lot of money, and it’s very unlikely that West has stayed under the $100,000 limit he could hide behind to avoid filing FEC paperwork. The one real enforcement mechanism the FEC has its automatic fines for campaigns who fail to file their reports on time. An FEC calculator showed that a candidate who raised and spent $100,000 would owe more than $11,000 in fees for failing to file its forms.

Normally, that fee structure is enough to keep candidates in line — or press coverage from missed deadlines is enough to embarrass them into complying with the law. 

But if West simply refused to comply, the FEC would have to step in and actually vote to bring him to court. Since Trump has failed to nominate enough people for a quorum on the FEC’s commission, that means the organization is totally toothless. And if his campaign continues to refuse to follow the law, it might be impossible to know exactly how deep the GOP’s involvement in West’s campaign is until well after the November election.

“The law wasn’t designed to deal with the wealthy spoiler candidate who’s trying to avoid disclosure to help another candidate.”

“The law wasn’t designed to deal with the wealthy spoiler candidate who’s trying to avoid disclosure to help another candidate,” said Ryan. “Kanye West isn’t the typical candidate so this enforcement mechanism isn’t going to work for his campaign.”

VICE News and others have been able to reveal efforts by well-connected Republicans in a number of states to try to help West get on the ballot — a move that GOP operatives hope could let him act as a spoiler candidate and siphon votes off from Joe Biden and potentially boost President Trump’s reelection chances. 

A GOP lawyer who worked for Trump submitted West’s signatures in a failed effort to qualify for the ballot in Wisconsin, and senior GOP operatives also helped West attempt to make the ballot states from Colorado to Arkansas to Ohio. On Wednesday, West’s campaign sued to overturn a ruling that would keep him off the ballot in Ohio. The lawyer representing West in the lawsuit, Curt Hartman, is a member of the National Republican Lawyers Association who’s currently running as a Republican for a judgeship in Hamilton County.

The biggest name that’s been identified with West’s campaign so far is Gregg Keller, a former head of the American Conservative Union who is close to Trump’s orbit. Keller, who submitted West’s paperwork in Arkansas, declined to answer a call from VICE News on Tuesday, responding by text with three heart emojis. He didn’t respond to follow-up text messages asking why his campaign hadn’t filed its FEC paperwork.

Keller has also taken to toying with reporters on Twitter for their interest in what exactly is going on with West’s campaign — as well as joking about his efforts. The Missouri-based operative who touts himself as “the dark prince of secrecy” in his twitter bio tipped his cap when former Senate candidate Jason Kander joked about West missing the ballot in their home state:

It’s clear that some of the other GOP operatives helping West see this as a fun way to screw with Biden. A private email from the GOP strategist who helped West qualify in Colorado that was obtained by VICE News asked for strategists who were “in on the joke” to help her out with the effort.

Until and unless those documents are filed, it will be impossible to tell exactly who else is involved in helping West’s shady campaign.

“Campaign finance reporting requirements exist to help the public and the press follow the money in politics. Filing campaign finance reports with the FEC is one of the basic steps required of every presidential candidate, and all candidates raising serious campaign cash should easily be able to meet this obligation,” Michael Beckel, a research director with the good government group Issue One, told VICE News.

West, a onetime vocal supporter of President Trump who has bipolar disorder, met with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner in recent weeks in Colorado. But he hasn’t exactly seemed locked in on the White House, past a celebratory tweet listing states he thought he’d qualified for the ballot. Other recent social media musings from West include a post showing him praying with the owners of Chick Fil-A in Georgia and thoughts about creating a Christian TikTok.

Cover: Kanye West speaks during a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval office of the White House on October 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Oliver Contreras - Pool/Getty Images)