A watchdog group today accused Detroit musician Kid Rock of violating federal election law by declaring himself a candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in Michigan but not registering his candidacy or reporting campaign contributions.

The group Common Cause filed the complaint with the Federal Election Commission and also asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate whether the musician —whose real name is Robert Ritchie — has violated election law.

“Given the activities we’ve documented in the complaint, he can’t reasonably claim to be merely testing the waters of candidacy and thus exempt from candidate filing requirements," said Paul S. Ryan, Common Cause's vice president for policy and litigation. "He is a candidate and is obligated to abide by all the rules."

But it's far from clear whether the mega-star really intends to run for the seat currently held by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow next year: He has made only cryptic remarks about his intentions and in July said he would hold off on a decision, using funds raised through merchandise sales to fund voter registration efforts instead.

Neither Kid Rock nor Warner Bros. Records Inc. — which the complaint alleges may have violated election law by facilitating contributions to Ritchie by selling merchandise that says "Kid Rock for U.S. Senate" — immediately commented on the complaint. Corporations are prohibited from making contributions to federal candidates.

Ryan, however, said that even if Kid Rock and Warner Bros. argue that they have not violated election law because he is not currently a candidate, past FEC rulings suggest otherwise. He said that even though Ritchie's July 26 statement said only that he was "exploring" a run, that doesn't negate the clear intention behind selling shirts or other merchandise that say "Kid Rock for Senate" or remarks on Twitter in which he said that his kidrockforsenate.com website is "real."

"Federal law is clear," Ryan said, that statements such as "Kid Rock for Senate" — even if expressed on a t-shirt, as long as the person it refers to has authorized it — triggers a person's candidacy under the law that he or she cannot simply retract.

Generally speaking, potential candidates under federal election law can claim an exemption from reporting requirements if they are "testing the waters" of a candidacy. But Ryan said federal election law makes clear that as long as a person has crossed the threshold of spending or raising $5,000, he or she cannot claim the exemption after having made statements that "generally reflect the individual's decision to become a candidate."

Ryan called Kid Rock's statements a "textbook" example of someone crossing the line to becoming a candidate, a threshold that under federal election law requires the person to form a committee and report contributions and expenses.

A spokeswoman for the FEC confirmed that the complaint had been received. But FEC investigations are kept confidential until they were finalized and referred to the commissioners themselves for action. Such a process can often take years, though there are procedures that allow for cases to be expedited.

Ritchie, who grew up in Macomb County, has been bandied about by Republicans eager to knock off Stabenow, a Democrat who is expected to run for her fourth 6-year term next year. The Detroit rocker is close to President Donald Trump and made a much-publicized visit to the White House this year with Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent.

Little polling has been done on how a match-up with Stabenow would play out, but at least one poll suggested Kid Rock could win. That said, Ritchie would almost certainly have to be listed on the ballot under his real name — not Kid Rock — unless he legally changed it. It's also a fair bet other candidates would hit him on his former use of the Confederate flag as a backdrop at shows, his vulgar remarks and other controversies.

Kid Rock will be the opening act at the new Little Caesar's Arena in Detroit with six shows beginning Sept. 12. This week, it was also announced that his Made in Detroit restaurant will open on the Woodward Avenue side of the new arena, serving "classic Detroit and Southern-influenced dishes," along with "local beers and craft cocktails."

News could be on the way soon regarding his political future: A firm handling publicity for Kid Rock said as he opens the new arena Sept. 12, after the first song, "he will be giving his fans exclusive insight on his political views and aspirations for Michigan while on stage."

Contact Todd Spangler at 703-854-8947 or at tspangler@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tsspangler.

►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the WZZM 13 app now.

Have a news tip? Email news@wzzm13.com, visit our Facebook page or Twitter.