On December 29, 2015, we exclusively broke the news that Endwell, NY, resident George Phillips had entered the race for the New York 22nd congressional seat. Mr. Phillips had declared his run via a letter selectively sent to 150 prospective supporters, of which we received a copy. In addition, a website by Phillips for Congress was created at some point on or after December 22, 2015, which declared Mr. Phillips run. But there is a potential issue about this.
When the domain name phillipsempowerny.com was purchased in December it was bought through a Canadian service. While that may seem unimportant, it could be crucial. According to Federal Election Commission (FEC) regulations, which oversee congressional campaigns, this could be a violation. If so, it could have a dramatic impact on the Phillips campaign. It could possibly result in fees, invalidation, and of course a massive negative with voters.
The problem is that if the domain name was purchased by a foreign national it violates FEC regulations. Specifically, the FEC states,
“The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) prohibits any foreign national from contributing, donating or spending funds in connection with any federal, state, or local election in the United States, either directly or indirectly.”
Initially, some may say that this is not an issue. Perhaps the domain was simply purchased via Canada to hide it from inquisitive news media who would report the news to the public. Why a campaign for a congressional candidate would seek to avoid public knowledge for any period of time is a serious question in itself, but it should be simple to answer if that were the case.
Thus we reached out to George Phillips (and Broome County Republican Chairman Bijoy Datta) on December 29, 2015 to answer that question and others about his relatively secret start to his campaign. On December 30, 2015, Mr. Phillips contacted us to state he would speak to us after the holidays to address our concerns. On January 4, 2016, Mr. Phillips held a press conference to tout campaign donations. In that conference we asked, as was shown in our exclusive unedited video of the event (George Phillips makes public announcement on 2016 campaign), why the domain was purchased in Canada. Mr. Phillips stated,
“I certainly have friends helping with the campaign, and I talked to a friend about the website. I looked at content. So wasn’t familiar with all that went into purchasing the URL, so I can get back to you on that.”
On January 5, 2016, we sent an email to Mr. Phillips continuing to seek response to our questions. In an email sent directly to Mr. Phillips we asked,
- Was the domain purchased by a Canadian (or other foreign national) individual or corporation? Will you provide the name of that supporter?
- How was possession transferred to Phillips for Congress?
- If the domain and/or website were paid for by a foreign national, doesn’t this violate Advisory Opinion 1979-59? If not how so?
- Has Phillips for Congress received any funds or renumeration from a foreign national?
- If the domain (and/or website) were not purchased by a foreign national, why did your campaign go through Canada?
As of the time of this article we have yet to receive any response to any of our questions. In fact the only action that has been taken is that the Phillips campaign has moved the registration of its domain from Canada to a US based company on January 5, 2016, with an additional amendment on January 7, 2016. These changes do not resolve the underlying problem, nor provide the public with an answer.
Clearly Mr. Phillips is aware of the potential violation of FEC regulations. He is aware of the URL conflict as he stated. For more than 9 days he has had the opportunity to address the issue, which he has twice stated he will provide comment. But the only action that has taken place is that the Phillips campaign has sought to obfuscate what they have done in an attempt to prevent further media attention.
Has the Phillips campaign violated FEC regulations? Are any part of the donations, received according to Mr. Phillips in just 4 days, from foreign nationals? Why would the Phillips campaign hide from the public at large? Why would the Phillips campaign act swiftly to cover-up what it had done, yet delay in answering news media?
The FEC, in response to our research for this article, is unclear at this time if this situation would be a violation, and they cannot directly comment on any individual campaign. While this may not violate Federal election regulations if it was simply an act of the Phillips for Congress campaign hiding information from the press – and thus the public – as part of a convoluted strategy, it should be simple to state. While that of course highlights concerns about the ethics of the Phillips campaign, it would put to bed questions about violations.
As a candidate for the NY 22nd congressional district, the George Phillips campaign has started off with more questions that hype. Secrecy in raising funds, a hidden website, possible foreign national connections, a lack of a political platform, and a refusal to discuss the political positions of candidate Phillips to multiple press questions over several days seems to outweigh the jovial ‘local man running’ aesthetic that the campaign is seeking to promote.
It raises a simple question that must be asked, if this is what is done in the campaign what would George Phillips do if elected? In a State know for political corruption at every level of elected office, this is a very serious question. But when and if George Phillips answers these questions – either with us or any member of the press – we will provide the complete answer.