Kid Rock’s make-believe Senate aspirations won’t land him in hot water after all.
The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) has declined to charge the Michigan rap-rocker with federal campaign violations following last year’s “Kid Rock for US Senate” promotion.
In a 3-1 decision this week, the commission dismissed a complaint from the watchdog group Common Cause contending that Rock ran afoul of candidate registration and financial reporting rules.
The FEC agreed with Rock that the promotion was “an artistic and commercial undertaking” tied to his upcoming album and tour — and that the musician born Robert Ritchie was never an actual candidate.
The commission also cleared Warner Bros. of violating campaign-finance law by helping sell “Kid Rock for US Senate” merchandise.
Kid Rock stirred a frenzy in summer 2017 with his colorful if cryptic hints at a run to displace U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. He touted a Kid Rock For Senate website, sold apparel with the slogan, and inserted a fiery, R-rated stump speech into his concerts, where he took on “deadbeat dads,” national anthem protests and other hot-button topics.
After three months of national attention — including serious media coverage and even polling — Rock revealed it had all been a publicity campaign for his approaching album “Sweet Southern Sugar.” Speaking with Howard Stern in October 2017, Rock called the promotion “the most creative thing I’ve ever done.”
Common Cause had already filed its complaint to the FEC a month earlier, accusing Rock of failing to register as a candidate or report contributions as required by law.
The FEC’s general counsel this summer agreed and recommended that the commission pursue the matter.
But the commission declined this week (PDF), saying Ritchie “does not appear to have taken even the most basic steps to become a candidate.”
“There is no evidence that Ritchie ever established a committee or campaign account, sought ballot access, hired a campaign staff or political consultants, sought to participate in a candidate debate, opened a campaign office, or solicited contributions for a campaign,” the decision read. “Nor does the record show that Ritchie made statements indicating he was a candidate under his legal name.”
Even if he did technically violate federal election law, commissioners said, “further pursuing this matter would have been an unwise use of commission resources.”
The FEC also cited First Amendment concerns.
“Ritchie is a musical artist and (he) argues that ‘Kid Rock’ is a stage name imbued with the artistic persona Ritchie has worked to cultivate,” commissioners wrote. “Ritchie states under oath that he had no intention of being a candidate and that ‘Kid Rock for US Senate’ was a slogan, part-and-parcel of his expression as an artist, including his music, staging, merchandising, and advertising.”
In his own sworn statement (PDF) to the FEC last November, Rock said he’s “an entertainer whose political message is bound up into his art.” He said the Senate promotion was created for a fan base that was “coalescing around common-sense, anti-status quo and patriotic-themed images and events.”
The commission agreed with the musician on another key point: Because Michigan law bars the use of stage names or pseudonyms on ballots, “Kid Rock” could never have been a candidate in the first place.
“Robert Ritchie is an individual but Kid Rock is not,” his statement had argued. “Therefore any campaigning for or by Kid Rock is a form of expression, not federal election activity.”
Contact Detroit Free Press music writer Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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