Andrew Yang promises 10 random families $12G each in Houston debate surprise

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang promised during Thursday night's debate to give a total of $120,000 to at least 10 random families over the next year – the latest campaign stunt from the unconventional candidate who says he would push for a universal basic income plan as president.

“I’m going to do something unprecedented tonight," Yang said in his opening statement. "My campaign will now give a freedom dividend of $1,000 a month for an entire year to 10 American families – someone watching this at home right now. If you believe that you can solve your own problems better than any politician go to Yang2020.com and tell us how $1,000 a month will do just that.”

Afterward, laughter could be heard in the debate hall in Houston, including from Sen. Amy Klobuchar. South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg followed by saying, “It’s original, I’ll give you that.”

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In a news release, Yang's campaign said the monthly payments will be funded by the campaign.

“We consulted with our counsel, and the Freedom Dividends are fully compliant with all FEC regulations,” the campaign said in a statement.

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A central part of Yang’s campaign pitch is his expensive proposal to give all Americans what he calls a “freedom dividend” of $1,000 a month. He has said he would pay for it by putting a European-style value-added tax on tech companies.

Yang is already personally funding a $1,000 a month freedom dividend for three families.

Some lawyers, though. questioned the legality of the payments.

"So @AndrewYang is a breath of fresh air in many ways but not sure he vetted his $1000/month to voters from campaign funds with an actual lawyer...," tweeted Preet Bharara, the former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

But speaking to Fox News earlier this year, Yang insisted that giving away money to voters is “100 percent legal,” saying he consulted lawyers and the Federal Election Commission first. He denied it amounts to buying votes.

“All you have to do is talk to any of the people that are actually receiving the freedom dividend and ask them has anyone from my campaign ever said that they need to do anything in return and you will categorically no: they can vote for whoever they like,” Yang said in June.

Ahead of the debate, Yang teased the forthcoming debate stunt, tweeting earlier this week that “we've got something big in store.”

In the run-up to the debate, Yang also worked to portray himself as different from the other politicians running for president, posting a “debate prep” video showing him boxing and playing basketball. He also recently shared video of himself crowd surfing over supporters.

“For those wondering I will be crowdsurfing in sandals at Thursday’s debate,” he joked on Twitter.

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Yang, a New York entrepreneur who has never run for office and was not famous before his run, has elbowed his way onto the debate stage with the help of a fervent group of supporters he calls the “Yang Gang.”