WASHINGTON – Move over, PACs. The latest campaign-finance flap is about sacks.
At a New York fundraising event Tuesday called "Runway to Win," President Barack Obama's re-election campaign plans to begin selling campaign-themed tote bags, T-shirts and accessories designed by more than two dozen famous designers.
Attendees can purchase a tote bag designed by Derek Lam for $75. A collectible makeup bag created by Richard Blanch with nail polish in Red-y To Win Red, Victory White and Bo Blue is going for $40. And a silk scarf featuring Obama's likeness by Thakoon Panichgul is $95. Profits from the sales will go to Obama's campaign chest.
Republicans contend the sale might violate campaign-finance rules. The gear will sell for a fraction of the price the designers' merchandise typically fetches at department stores. Republicans say that suggests they relied on corporate resources to keep costs low, which could amount to illegal campaign contributions. On Lam's website, handbags range in price from $340 to $1,890. The three scarves offered on Thakoon's website go for $325 apiece.
"This raises serious questions about whether corporate money, property and employees were improperly used in the design and production of these items without reimbursement," said Sean Spicer, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.
Jan Baran, an election lawyer with Wiley Rein LLP, said designers can't ask employees to work on political projects unless they willingly volunteered their time. "Someone who is paid to do campaign work is not a volunteer," he said. If the designer or staff are paid by anyone other than the campaign, it would be considered a campaign contribution from a company to a candidate.
The Obama campaign said the gear complies with campaign-finance rules.
"All of the designers volunteered their personal time to create these great designs," the campaign said, and were "not underwritten with any corporate funds."
The fundraising effort will be launched before the start of Fashion Week in New York. It was a project of Vogue magazine editor Anna Wintour, who rounded up Obama supporters to apply their creativity -- and more important, their names -- to otherwise pedestrian campaign gear.