This story has been updated.
If you can’t win a seat in Congress, why not parlay your failed political dreams into reality TV stardom? (We call this the reverse-Sean Duffy.)
Manhattan congressional candidate Nick Di Iorio is probably not going to win in November. And he knows it. So when producers approached him about appearing in a reality TV show about long-shot political campaigns, he was interested.
Di Iorio, a Republican running to unseat incumbent Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), and his campaign manager, Joseph Shippee, would be featured campaigning in a district “considered unwinnable,” Shippee wrote in a letter to the Federal Election Commission in early June. The producers, who had hoped to option the idea to Esquire Network, sought candidates with low odds, and as Shippee wrote, “Nick appears to fit this description.”
The show would not air until after the election. Shippee wanted to know: Could they get paid? And if not, could they do the show at all?
The FEC responded Monday in a draft advisory opinion telling them that no, they could not be paid, but yes, they could be featured on the show. A candidate for Congress can only receive compensation if it’s for work outside of his candidacy. “To the contrary, the candidate and his staff were asked to appear on the reality television show specifically because of Mr. Di Iorio’s candidacy,” according to the pending draft, which the commission is yet to vote on.
But the FEC said Esquire would be operating as a “legitimate press function,” so the campaign would be allowed to be documented just as any campaign can be covered by a news organization.
Unfortunately for Di Iorio’s potential celebrity, Katherine Nelson, senior vice president, communications for Esquire Network, told the Loop that the show “is not being developed or produced by Esquire Network.”
Larry Noble, former FEC general counsel and now with the Campaign Legal Center, said if Di Iorio and Shippee had done the show they would have needed to make sure they didn’t receive any “material support,” like a larger office or help setting up an event, and that they didn’t use any of the show’s material in campaign ads.
Shippee, when reached by phone, declined to comment on the opinion. (Unclear whether he knows that the show’s been rejected.)
He said they had been”flattered by the possibility and opportunity” and wanted to find out the rules before signing on to do the show.
Flattered that producers pinpointed theirs as a losing campaign? With that kind of thick skin, they’d be perfect for reality TV.
Sean P. Duffy
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