USA: Corporate Election Freebees — Fun, But Illegal

Global Integrity
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A new trend in the U.S. — corporations getting into the election spirit with free handouts to voters. It’s all good spirited democratic cheerleading; it’s also illegal.

Major U.S. retail brands like Starbucks, Krispe Kreme and 7-11 are eager to engage with their customers around the election. It’s a convergence of three trends — an enthusiastic voter base engrossed by the last election; an interest by brand managers to engage with customers around popular (and uncontroversial) civic issues; and a tendency to inflate the most obscure holiday (Sweethearts Day?) into big retail events. Election Day is perfect as a feel-good secular holiday.

The problem is all the free stuff. The freebees, ranging from star-shaped donuts to bottles of champagne are, in the eyes of the no-fun law, paying people to vote. Paying people to vote (or not vote) is illegal.

Slate has the legal breakdown, and says prosecutions are unlikely. I’m a little surprised that none of the corporate lawyers who vet these things knew this could be an issue.

7-11 dodges the problem with it’s genius 7-Election campaign, which requires customers to pay for their coffee, but lets them elect a red cup or blue cup to declare their party preference. Obama’s blue cups won the poll 59 percent to 42 percent, a result a bit better than the actual result of Obama’s 53 percent to McCain’s 46 percent. Partisans are advised to “vote” early and often, much to the delight of 7-11’s accountants.

— Jonathan Werve

Global Integrity
Global Integrity

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