In what he is calling the largest single campaign complaint in history, Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Neal Dikeman is alleging that a planned town hall meeting by CNN amounts to an illegal $10 million in-kind campaign contribution to Democrat Beto O’Rourke.
Dikeman filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission on the heels of news last week that O’Rourke shattered fundraising records with a $38.1 million take in the final quarter before the November 6 election. Dikeman alleges in his complaint that a town hall scheduled for Thursday in McAllen violates federal election law because it will give O’Rourke an hour-long prime time forum worth millions of advertising dollars.
“Politics should not be about money, and corporations should not be funding politicians,” Dikeman said in a prepared statement. “Particularly in this race as Congressman O’Rourke is running fundraising campaigns touting his exclusion of special interest money. Excluding a Libertarian nominee from the debates because you think I’ll take more votes from you than the other guy is one thing, politics is politics. But violating campaign finance laws, especially on this scale is much bigger than that. The scope of this violation should give every American pause.”
Neither the O’Rourke or Cruz campaigns responded to a Texas Monthly request for comment.
Originally, CNN had been planning on a town hall involving O’Rourke and incumbent Republican Ted Cruz, but the Cruz campaign declined the offer. CNN then touted the town hall conversation with O’Rourke by saying, “CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash will moderate a live, one-hour town hall with Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is running for US Senate, on Thursday, October 18, at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT at the McAllen Performing Arts Center near the US-Mexico border. GOP Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign initially accepted CNN’s invitation to participate but later declined, a network official said.”
Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe, disputed that in a tweet:
To be clear, the Cruz campaign proposed that @CNN host one of the Cruz-O’Rourke debates. The O’Rourke campaign declined. @CNN subsequently offered back to back town halls, in which we are unable to participate. https://t.co/HCULTtUnpW
— Jeff Roe (@jeffroe) October 9, 2018
Dikeman said in his complaint that had Cruz participated, it could have been considered a debate, albeit one that excluded Dikeman. But since Cruz declined to participate, the town hall meeting should be considered an in-kind contribution. Federal election law caps donations to federal candidates at $2,700 per election or $5,000 if it is a political action committee. Corporations such as CNN, however, are prohibited from making any kind of contribution to a candidate or a candidate’s committee.
“If the FEC, or on further appeal the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, finds that the contribution is prohibited, Beto for Texas could be liable for repayment to CNN of the full fair market value of the prohibited contribution,” Dikeman said in a news release.