But what about White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner speaking with West? That ventures much closer to dicey territory.
Both West and Kushner have confirmed that they met last weekend in Colorado, amid the effort to get West on the ballot in several key states (while missing some of the most vital ones). Another report indicated that West has said the two speak almost daily. Instantly, some alleged that this is illegal.
The short answer, according to election law experts, is that it depends.
Simply having a meeting between a higher-up on Trump’s campaign and another candidate doesn’t itself run afoul of the law. It depends entirely on what the two of them discussed.
The first potential issue, according to Paul S. Ryan of the watchdog group Common Cause, is if Kushner encouraged West to do something proactive that could benefit Trump’s campaign, such as running for office. If Kushner solicited from West what could be valued at more than the legal limit of $2,800, it could be considered an in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign. And, given the expense of running campaigns, it seems likely if not guaranteed that West running for office — and expending much more than $2,800 — would violate that law.
The second issue is if they coordinated about the campaign — i.e., if Kushner encouraged West to do something specific when it comes to launching or running a campaign.
“Any expenditure made by Kanye West in cooperation, consultation or concert with — or at the request or suggestion of — Kushner, an agent of the Trump campaign, would be considered an in-kind contribution from the Kanye West campaign to the Trump campaign,” Ryan said.
Richard L. Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California at Irvine, echoed Ryan’s sentiments. He wrote on his blog that West is allowed to run a campaign even if he believes its purpose is to help Trump, with whom he has allied politically. But if anything is done tied to what Kushner or the Trump campaign asked, that’s when this ventures into troubled waters.
“When someone spends money supporting a candidate but does so in coordination with a candidate for office, that counts as a contribution and is subject to the $2,800 limit,” Hasen wrote. “West surely is spending more than $2,800 on his campaign. If he’s doing so in coordination with the Trump campaign to help Trump win, that could count as an excessive contribution to the campaign and be illegal.”
Hasen noted that there is little legal precedent on this issue, but he did point to a 1992 case called United States v. Goland. In that case, Michael Goland, a supporter of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alan Cranston of California, spent $120,000 supporting a third-party candidate who he thought would siphon votes from Cranston’s Republican opponent. Goland did coordinate with the third-party candidate, Ed Vallen — albeit while hiding his identity so as not to raise Vallen’s suspicions about his true motivation.
Goland argued that his expenditure was not illegal because it was simply an “independent expenditure,” for which there are fewer limits. But the courts rejected that argument, saying:
The independent expenditures exception to contribution limits does not apply to Goland because: (1) agents of Vallen and Goland were acting in concert; and (2) Vallen cooperated with Goland by accepting the money and performing the commercial. Goland intended to contribute to Vallen’s campaign, and it is immaterial to conviction … that he did so in support of Cranston.
Again, the issue with the Kushner and West conversations is what they discussed. If Kushner was encouraging West to do something proactive and that could be attached to a dollar value, that could be illegal. If he was encouraging West to run, period, that could be an illegal solicitation of a campaign contribution.
But there’s another explanation raised by the Forbes piece, which reported that West said Kushner and he spoke frequently. In it, Forbes said West has told others that “Jared’s scared and doesn’t want me to run because he knows that I can win.”
The idea that the Trump campaign is scared of West winning the presidency is laughable. Indeed, it has become clear that some Republican operatives view this as a potential boon to Trump, with the assumption being that West might siphon some Black voters and young voters from Joe Biden. The Forbes piece also raised the possibility that this is reverse psychology from Kushner — i.e., telling West not to run because it might make him more likely to do so:
And that seems to be the message that Kushner has been feeding him: “Jared’s scared and doesn’t want me to run because he knows that I can win,” West has told numerous associates after his conversations with the president’s son-in-law, who also serves as de facto chief of Trump’s reelection campaign. That message, the sources close to West acknowledge, is the exact one that will embolden West to stay in the race. “If you know him for more than 20 minutes, you know that will work,” says one West confidant. Adds another: “He’s just like a kid. The more you tell him he can’t do a thing, the more he’ll do it. … He has a tremendous drive to prove people wrong.”
But even if Kushner were indeed discouraging West from running, Ryan said, that would likely be okay.
“The law doesn’t regulate or restrict or prohibit the non-spending of money or the discouragement of spending money,” Ryan said. “It’s not illegal for Kushner to tell West, ‘Don’t spend any money.’ ”
In other words, as Ryan told me, it’s important to know the full context of their conversations. They certainly raise all kinds of questions, but at this early stage it’s worth being circumspect and learning more. The fact that Kushner took this meeting with a competing candidate — whatever their personal friendship — is problematic, at best, especially in light of the GOP effort to get West on the ballot.
But, legally speaking, it’s worth knowing more.