As a result of complaints about filmmaker Michael Moore’s speaking tour on campuses nationwide, the Federal Election Commission is investigating major universities — not yet including the University of Michigan — because of what is alleged to ba violation of campaign finance laws.
David Hardy, an attorney from Tucson, Ariz., and author of “Michael Moore is a Big Fat Stupid White Man,” has filed two complaints with the FEC. Hardy said the speaking fees collected by Moore constitute a breach of the ban on corporate donations to a political campaign. Hardy emphasized that it did not matter for whom Moore campaigned.
“(If they’re) paying a man who is giving a speech to influence the election, then they are breaking the law,” he said.
Hardy said he selected the universities using an Internet search engine.
“I tended to emphasize a university where there was a good deal of reporting on the content of the speech,” he said. Hardy added that he looked for speeches in which Moore openly attempted to affect the election.
But FEC spokesman George Smaragdis said that all corporations are prohibited from making contributions to campaigns in federal elections.
“A lot depends on what is said. Is it generally, ‘vote on November 2nd’ or ‘vote for John Doe’?” he said. “General non-partisan get-out-the-vote is fine.” He added that anyone who campaigns for a candidate, even if that person is not employed by the candidate, cannot receive funding from a corporation.
Moore spoke at the University on Sept. 29th of last year. The Michigan Student Assembly, an organization listed as a corporation at the Michigan Secretary of State’s office, funded the sold-out event. MSA receives funding from the University.
University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said Moore’s appearance at the University did not violate laws.
“Public universities are allowed to invite speakers prior to an election,” she said. “Both sides, however, must be offered equal access and equal opportunity.” Peterson also said this view has been ratified by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“During the presidential election in 2000, Al Gore came and spoke in the Media Union and MSA sponsored it. He was a direct candidate,” she said. The University received no complaints from the FEC at that time.
“There are a variety of speakers coming to campus with a variety of ideas and that’s the way it should be — that’s the way we learn,” Peterson said.
The FEC would not comment on the pending investigations. Smaragdis said the penalty for a violation of this type has yet to be decided.
“Enforcement is left on a case-by-case basis. It is based on how much money is involved and whether the violation was knowing and willful,” he said. Moore received an average of $30,000 per appearance according to the complaints filed by Hardy.
MSA President Jason Mironov said he was not concerned about the possibility of investigation.
“We were very pleased with the popularity of (Moore’s) visit, and we will continue to try to bring in sometimes controversial speakers,” he said.