Politics & Policy

Diddy Break Election Law?

Peter Flaherty on a hip hopper's campaigning.

The National Legal and Policy Center has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Sean “Diddy” Combs for his Citizen Change group and its “Vote or Die” campaigning during the 2004 election. NLPC says that “Combs appeared to have violated the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) and the Internal Revenue Service Code by promoting the election of John Kerry and the defeat of George Bush. Combs headed a group called Citizen Change that sponsored the Vote or Die! Campaign. Citizen Change purported to promote voter mobilization, consistent with the activities of a nonprofit organization, but engaged in prohibited electioneering activities.”

NRO Editor Kathryn Lopez talked to NLPC’s president, Peter Flaherty about the complaint. Here’s what he had to say.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: What’s your beef with P. Diddy?

Peter Flaherty: We have alleged that Diddy and his supposedly nonpartisan voter-mobilization group Citizen Change appeared to violate federal law. His “Vote or Die” rallies had more than a pro-Kerry flavor. Participants like Leonardo DiCaprio and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick exhorted the crowds to vote for Kerry.

Lopez: “Vote or Die” is so..2004. Why go after it now?

Flaherty: We were aware of the violations when they occurred. But frankly, my staff has better things to do than worry about Diddy. The complaint was filed after the NAACP Legal Defense Fund decided to give Diddy a “special award” on November 3 for the Vote or Die! campaign. I want the underscore how badly the civil-rights movement has lost its way.

Contrast the courage and dignity of Rosa Parks to what Diddy represents.

Lopez: Did anyone really think Leo DiCaprio was for Bush? How does this really matter?

Flaherty: It matters if a nonpartisan, nonprofit group is paying the bills so Leo can go around and campaign for Kerry. It’s illegal.

Lopez: Do you believe this was part of some kind of coordinated attempt to defeat Bush? Dare I say it? A Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy, perhaps?

Flaherty: I believe Diddy’s goal was to call attention to himself, or perhaps his clothing line. The campaign itself was largely a joke. The republic was never in danger.

Lopez: Who gains by this outing and any subsequent FEC action?

Flaherty: Since the FEC and IRS have in the past taken action against conservative nonprofits that have crossed the line into partisan activity, it is worthwhile for us to complain when the other side does it. Part of our mission is fighting double standards.

Lopez: You’re not just trying to make the National Legal and Policy Center look cooler by appearing in wire stories with the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy?

Flaherty:I don’t consider Diddy cool. Even when he was an artist, he would sample someone else’s hit, and then try to make it his own. But there is a more serious point here. For years, I’ve picked up the Washington Post and read the little items about young African Americans in their twenties being shot to death by unknown assailants. They are always in there. The rap culture has glorified violence and thuggery. I know that rap has gone mainstream, at least to some extent. But we still have a small group of promoters getting rich, and a lot of dead kids out there. If Diddy is equated with cool, our society is in a state of decay.

Lopez: On a more serious note: Do you expect the FEC to take action or is it sufficient that Citizen Change’s political biases have been revealed?

Flaherty: I already made my serious point, but I will say that NLPC does not fire blanks. Our last three FEC complaints have been successful, against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), Senator Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.), and Al Sharpton. Also, we filed a complaint with the inspector general of the Pentagon that exposed the Boeing Tanker Deal Scandal, sending two Boeing executives to prison and saving taxpayers $4-5 billion.

Lopez: What’s your aim? Silence Diddy? Pave the way for Pat Boone for Change in 2008?

Flaherty: Since Pat Boone put out that heavy metal album, maybe it is time to start complaining about him.

Lopez: The bigger question seems to me: Is anyone on record as having died because they did not vote? Isn’t this the kind of false advertising in politics we could all do without? What would Tocqueville think?

Flaherty:The Vote or Die t-shirts cost $30 each. They were retailed at 59 clothing and department stores in 21 states and D.C. We have asked the FEC to examine whether this wasn’t just a scheme to sell t-shirts, or to generally call attention to Diddy’s clothing endeavor.

If Tocqueville were to return today, I would tell him to go look at what’s happening in France, and stay out of our problems.


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