The Wire's Philip Bump is skeptical that Maher's plan will work but explains that what Maher is doing is perfectly legal:On his weekly HBO talk show, “Real Time With Bill Maher,” on Friday night, Mr. Maher and his staff plan to ask viewers to make a case for their individual representatives in the House to be selected as the worst in the country.
After some culling and analysis, one member of Congress will be selected, and the show will follow up through November with examples of what it considers terrible work by that representative. Mr. Maher will make occasional visits to that member’s district to perform stand-up and generally stir up hostile feelings toward the show’s target.
“This year, we are going to be entering into the exciting world of outright meddling with the political process,” Mr. Maher said in an email message.
The project — which the show is calling the “flip the district” campaign — is intended to get real results, said Scott Carter, the show’s executive producer. Among the criteria for selecting a representative, other than some degree of outrageousness in statements or voting record, is that the member be in a truly competitive race. Those running unopposed will not be selected, no matter how egregious the show’s fans may claim them to be.
“We want the chance to win,” Mr. Carter said. The choice may be a Republican or a Democrat, though he acknowledged, “with our viewers voting, I imagine it is much more likely we will pick a Republican.” - New York Times, 1/30/14
Bumb mentions Tea Party Congressman Mike Coffman (R. CO-06) and Michael "I'll Break You In Half" Grimm (R. NY-11) as potential targets. Bumb believes this is a way for Maher to gain more ratings and his plan for Hollywood types to help sway voters in these districts could work depending on the district. I Think Coffman and Grimm are great targets but I would love to hear your thoughts. Please post them in the comments and be sure to check out Real Time tonight!The Wire spoke by phone with Richard Briffault, professor of law at Columbia Law School and an expert on election law. "After Citizens United" — the Supreme Court decision that made election spending more clearly covered under free speech rules — "corporations can now engage in direct advocacy," Briffault pointed out, meaning that there's nothing preventing Maher from telling people to vote against whoever he wants.
There are boundaries of course. "Some portion of his time on this show will be treated as electionaeering," Briffault said, "and it will have to report to the FEC what they're spending and where the money is coming from." The show is produced by Bill Maher Productions, Brad Grey Television, and HBO (the station on which it airs); some unlucky accountant will need to sit down with an unlucky lawyer and figure out what percent of the show's spending was used to promote or oppose a candidate and then report those numbers to the government. (Often, this is calculated as a percentage. If an episode costs $1.2 million to make with all costs included, and one-third of it was spent on electioneering, the company might report $400,000 to the FEC.)
There are boundaries when it comes to actual campaign contributions, a line that is crossed if, for example, Maher works with the candidate he hopes wins the race. As long as Maher's expenses on the race aren't coordinated with the person he hopes wins, he can spend what he wants. And, Briffault notes, the line for when Maher is actually coordinating with a candidate is very finely drawn. "If he's urging people to give to a candidate and has him on the show, that's not necessarily coordination, believe it or not," Briffault said. "Things you and I might think are coordination might not seem that way to the FEC." If Maher and the candidate plan on who will say what and when, that's coordination. Otherwise, there's a lot he can get away with. - The Wire, 1/31/13