WASHINGTON — Markwayne Mullin, a Republican running for Congress in eastern Oklahoma, will have to file federal reports on his plumbing company's commercials if the Federal Election Commission approves an advisory opinion drafted by the agency's attorneys.
The draft opinion says Mullin's corporate commercials and a home improvement radio show he sponsors qualify as “electioneering communications” since they clearly identify a federal candidate and they reach at least 50,000 people in the 2nd Congressional District.
The FEC is scheduled to consider the draft opinion at a meeting Thursday in Washington.
Mullin's attorney, Jason Torchinsky, said the opinion was subject to change during the commission meeting.
Mullin requested the opinion since the rules regarding electioneering communications kick in 30 days before a primary election.
Oklahoma's primary elections are June 26; Mullin has five Republicans opponents in the 2nd District race.
Mullin's plumbing company spends about $40,000 a month on television and radio advertising, and many of the ads feature Mullin saying, “Hi, I'm Markwayne Mullin.”
Electioneering communications are typically ads sponsored by outside groups promoting or attacking a candidate in a federal race. But the commission, citing federal law and court cases, has never issued a blanket exemption for ads for a candidate's private business.
In a similar case, however, the FEC exempted car dealership ads even though the dealership bore the same name as the candidate. The candidate did not appear in the ads, the FEC said.
Groups that sponsor electioneering communications have to disclose publicly the names of donors who gave $1,000 or more and the amount spent on an ad.
The FEC's draft opinion in Mullin's case says he won't have to disclose the names of customers who spend $1,000 or more on plumbing services. In a recent case, a federal judge defined a contributor as a person “who gives money without expectation of service or property or legal right in return.” Mullin's customers, the FEC draft opinion says, gave money in exchange for plumbing services.