WASHINGTON — The Federal Election Commission is looking into whether Sean “Diddy” Combs’ “Vote or Die” campaign during the 2004 election violated federal law, according to the National Legal & Policy Center.
The conservative watchdog group filed a complaint with the FEC against the mogul this month and posted a recent letter from the FEC on its Web site that stated the matter is under review for “possible violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.”
The organization has alleged in its FEC complaint that Combs and his campaign, Citizen Change, violated the FECA and the Internal Revenue Service Code by promoting the election of Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and the defeat of President George Bush. It also charges Combs and the campaign “apparently made illegal corporate contributions to influence a federal election.”
An FEC spokeswoman said a complaint has been filed, but said the agency’s policies prohibited her from confirming whether the case had been accepted for review.
Combs, president and chief executive officer of fashion firm Sean John, launched the get-out-the-vote drive last year. He used his celebrity and marketing savvy in college and inner-city voter-registration drives and teamed with other high-profile campaigns like MTV’s “Choose or Lose” effort and Russell Simmons’ Hip-Hop Summit Action Network.
Combs also participated in several voter outreach programs, made public appearances and launched an album and a line of “Vote or Die” T-shirts.
In a statement, Alexis McGill, executive director of Citizen Change, said: “Citizen Change accomplished what it set out to do: educate, motivate and empower the millions of young people and minorities about the power of their vote. Our nonpartisan campaign contributed to an increase of 11 percent overall [voter turnout] among young people.”
McGill did not address the complaint or FEC review. Combs, through his public relations agency, declined to comment.
According to the watchdog group’s complaint, Combs and Citizen Change, which sponsored the “Vote or Die” campaign, engaged in “prohibited electioneering activities,” at voter drives across the country by promoting the election of Kerry.
In the complaint, the group cites Citizen Change rallies where speakers allegedly called for the election of Kerry, including an Oct. 26, 2004, Wayne State University event where actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick were said to have urged the crowd to vote for Kerry.
“The core of the complaint is Citizen Change engaged in partisan electioneering activities, which it was not supposed to do,” Peter Flaherty, president of NLPC, said in an interview. “A nonprofit corporation cannot engage in the promotion or promote a candidate for federal election. What it can do is encourage people to register to vote and go to the polls, but it can’t tell them who to vote for.”
The complaint also charged Citizen Change is at the same address as Combs’ business — Bad Boy World Entertainment Group, of which Combs is the founder and owner — and claimed the FEC has “an obligation to find out” whether the activities of Citizen Change were underwritten by BBWEG.
Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate Center at American University, a nonpartisan research and public policy development organization, said the FEC needs to take any complaint under review.
“This one has the trapping of potential difficulties,” said Gans. “Whether the trapping is sufficient will probably be decided by the number of speakers supporting Kerry at any given rally.”
Gans said the case could be considered weak if “the president of the organization and the preponderance of speakers did not advocate the election of Kerry.”
He also said Combs, as a private citizen, can advocate anything, but has to refrain within the framework of his campaign.