Kid Rock sold merchandise for a fake Senate campaign in Michigan for months, all the while encouraging rumors that he would run and teasing announcements. Now that the “campaign” is officially over — spurred by Kid Rock’s “fuck no” — the artist won’t say how much money he made from the “Kid Rock For Senate” stunt or where it went.
The merchandise, sold on the Warner Bros. Records website, included T-shirts, yard signs, stickers, and hats. The stickers and the yard signs were recently listed as sold out.
“All proceeds go to voter registration efforts. This is not a political contribution,” said a disclaimer on the website as recently as Oct. 24, the day Kid Rock said he had never been serious about a campaign. But after BuzzFeed News began making inquiries for this story, the website was updated; the disclaimer has disappeared.
In a July statement, the artist said he was “creating a 501(c)(4)” for the “promotion of voter registration,” adding: “[M]oney raised at this time through the sale of merchandise associated with this very possible campaign will go towards our 'register to vote' efforts.”
“Not only can I raise money for this critical cause, but I can help get people registered to vote at my shows. Since the announcement, the media has speculated this was a ploy to sell shirts or promote something. I can tell you, I have no problem selling Kid Rock shirts and yes, I absolutely will use this media circus to sell/promote whatever I damn well please,” the artist’s statement said.
A representative for Kid Rock did not respond to multiple inquiries from BuzzFeed News about the merchandise or the 501(c)(4), including what its name was, whether the merchandise proceeds went to the 501(c)(4) or somewhere else, how much money Kid Rock has raised from the campaign merchandise, when and why the website was updated, and whether the 501(c)4 was shut down after he announced he wouldn’t run. Warner Bros. Records initially referred BuzzFeed News to Kid Rock’s representative for comment on the merchandise. In an email on Thursday responding to a follow-up request, a Warner Brothers spokesperson said, “unfortunately Kid Rock is not doing any press at this time.”
Kid Rock, whose actual name is Robert Ritchie, is an established supporter of President Donald Trump and flirted with a campaign against Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow for a good part of the year. A Michigan polling group even conducted a hypothetical poll to see what would happen if he entered the race — it showed him badly trailing the incumbent Democrat.
The artist posted teasing social media messages and even launched a "Kid Rock for Senate" website which, in addition to featuring a link to purchase the merchandise, has alternated messages on the homepage like “welcome to the party” and “you never met a politician quite like me.” The bottom of the site reads: “Paid for by me.”
Late in October, Kid Rock finally put an end to the rumors.
"Fuck no, I’m not running for Senate. Are you fucking kidding me?" the artist said on Howard Stern's SiriusXM show. "Like, who fucking couldn’t figure that out? I’m releasing a new album... I’m going on tour too, which no one’s going to print… Fuck no. Are you fucking shitting me?"
“Since someone, like, said I was going to run for Senate in Michigan, and I’m like, ‘eh, fuck it, let’s get some signs made.’ Right? We start going with it. I’m like, everyone gets their panties in a bunch. Listen, I have people that work for me, they’re on the in. I’m like, ‘fuck no, we’re not doing it. But let’s roll with it for a little while.’ I’m like, ‘this is awesome.’”
His new album, Sweet Southern Sugar, will go on sale this Friday.
Kid Rock never filed papers indicating that he planned to run for Senate with the Federal Election Commission and thus did not disclose his fundraising to the agency. There is a legal allowance by the FEC for potential candidates who haven't yet raised or spent $5,000 for the campaign to “test the waters” without having to officially register as a candidate or disclose the money they raised. This lets potential candidates check on the viability of a run — by polling, for example — but prohibits them from engaging in behavior that would constitute as campaigning. Such behavior includes “making or authoriz[ing] statements that refer to themselves as candidates (‘Smith in 2018’ or ‘Smith for Senate’),” according to the FEC’s website.
Common Cause, a left-leaning government watchdog group, filed a complaint with the FEC and the Justice Department on Sept. 1, accusing Kid Rock of violating those rules and raising money without officially declaring his candidacy.
Kid Rock addressed those concerns the same day. “I am starting to see reports from the misinformed press and the fake news on how I am in violation of breaking campaign law. #1 I have still not officially announced my candidacy. #2 See #1 and go fuck yourselves,” the artist said in a statement on his website.
But campaign finance experts say the difference between campaigning and testing the waters can be a fine line and cast doubts that Kid Rock had crossed it.
“[It] actually can be kind of a complicated issue, because if you do a number of things in advance that appear as if you’re running, such as having material that says ‘Kid Rock for Senate,’ it may appear that even though you haven’t formally announced that you are in fact planning to run,” said Ann Ravel, a former Democrat FEC commissioner. “That’s an issue that the FEC wrestles with a lot.”
But Ravel described the artist’s comments saying he wouldn’t run as “hysterical,” and added there was “nothing to prohibit” him from using a potential campaign to gain notoriety for his album.
Experts said it’s unlikely that Kid Rock broke campaign finance laws because he said he’d never even considered actually running.
“Given his language … they probably have an argument that, look this guy was never even a candidate,” said Tyler Cole, legislative director at Issue One.
Asked if the FEC looked at Kid Rock because of the merchandise, an FEC press officer said the commission “cannot discuss specific committees or sets of circumstances.”
As to whether a trend of people pulling similar stunts to make money frommerchandise is a concern going forward, experts say there’s not much that can be done.
“I think sort of as citizens of the country, that’s a concern. As watchdogs and good government groups, I’m not sure there’s…much that we can do about it,” Cole said. “If they’re not crossing those lines into the legal definition of candidacy, it’s sort of a buyer beware situation.”
Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of Center for Responsive Politics, argued that there could be another issue with someone like Kid Rock faking a candidacy in the future.
“It would be a great shame, I think, if there were suddenly a glut of kind of faux candidates because we really need people to take this seriously, you know, and it is a big commitment to run for office at any level,” Krumholz told BuzzFeed News. “It would be a shame if somebody with instant name recognition would quash their aspirations.”
This story was updated to clarify a comment from Issue One's Tyler Cole.