WASHINGTON — Oklahoma congressional candidate Markwayne Mullin said Thursday he would not appear in new ads for his plumbing company in order to avoid federal rules governing election-related communication close to an election.
Mullin's decision came after the Federal Election Commission divided along partisan lines and failed late Wednesday to give him legal guidance on whether his company ads are subject to public disclosure rules that kick in 30 days before a primary; Oklahoma's primaries are scheduled for June 26.
Absent the guidance, Mullin was faced with suspending his corporate ads for a few weeks, modifying them to comply with the law or continuing them and possibly subjecting his campaign to a legal complaint.
Mullin said his company ads would continue before the primary but would feature his wife and others, rather than him, an approach aimed at addressing the law's application to ads that refer to “a clearly identified candidate for federal office.”
Mullin's ads typically feature him saying at the opening, “Hi, I'm Markwayne Mullin.”
Mullin, a Republican from Westville who is running for the 2nd District congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Dan Boren, said, “I went above and beyond by asking the FEC to make a ruling on this issue, but instead of giving any clear guidance, they couldn't even agree on what their own rules say.
“I don't believe for one second that Mullin Plumbing advertisements need to be changed, but once again I'll go above and beyond to comply with these burdensome regulations.”
Had the commission determined that Mullin's ads were electioneering communications — and he continued to appear in them — Mullin would have been required to include a disclaimer that the ads were paid for by the company. His company also would have been required to disclose publicly the amount spent on the ads.
“If I put a political disclaimer on Mullin Plumbing ads, then all of a sudden they are political ads and not plumbing ads,” Mullin said in a statement. “My business is plumbing, not politics, so the last thing I want to do is confuse people with political disclaimers on plumbing ads.”
Mullin asked the Federal Election Commission, which enforces federal election laws, for an advisory opinion May 1 about whether his plumbing company ads should be considered electioneering communications. Such communications are typically run by outside groups, and the law was aimed at giving the public information about the source of funding.
The six-member commission deadlocked late Wednesday after voting on two different proposals — one that would have declared that the plumbing company ads weren't
Neither got the four votes necessary for approval.
Comments from opponents
The commission received public comments from six Oklahomans, including one of Mullin's Republican opponents, Wayne Pettigrew. Some of the comments said Mullin has promoted his company through his campaign ads and that the two sets of ads had become indistinguishable.
Pettigrew, of McAlester, told the commission that the plumbing company ads appear to present “an open and shut case of electioneering and use of corporate resources to benefit a candidate and to garner additional support through corporate advertising.”
J.T. Russell, campaign manager for Dakota Wood, one of Mullins' opponents, said in a statement Thursday that the FEC matter showed Mullin “could be misusing corporate resources in his campaign.”