The Obama campaign has more than $60 million cash on hand. In an economy this bad, you'd think a presidential campaign that flush would be happy to pay good money for a talented designer to create a campaign poster.
But the folks at Obama campaign have taken a page from the Arianna Huffington book of economic exploitation and called on "artists across the country" to create a poster ... for free.
And here's the kicker. It's a jobs poster.
Yes, the Obama campaign is soliciting unpaid labor to create a poster "illustrating why we support President Obama's plan to create jobs now, and why we'll re-elect him to continue fighting for jobs for the next four years."
If you win? You get: A framed copy of your own poster, signed by the president ("approximate retail value $195").
And if you don't win? Well, that's too bad. You've not only lost the contest, you've also surrendered your intellectual property. "All submissions will become the property of Obama for America," according to the fine print.
The campaign presents a "creative brief" that offers potential slogans for the poster, including: "Fighting for jobs," "Get America back to work," "Made in the USA," and "Support small business."
To this list, let us helpfully suggest adding the tagline of San Francisco designer Mike Montiero: "Fuck You. Pay Me."
Monteiro — better known to his Twitter followers as @Mike_FTW — is the design director at Mule Design. "I find it ironic that the campaign is kicking off this big jobs program by asking designers to do free work for them," he tells Rolling Stone. Monteiro says he's a supporter of the campaign as well as a donor ("some of that cash on hand is mine"), but he adds: "I get furious when people ask for free design work, and even more furious when designers do work for free."
"The design industry has been hit as hard as a lot of other groups," Monteiro says. "We need jobs too."
The Obama campaign did not return a call seeking comment.
Beyond the not-so-delicious irony of a rich campaign asking starving artists for free work in the middle of the Great Recession, there's also a potential campaign-finance issue at play here. If the Obama campaign asked a printing shop to produce the winning poster for free, for example, it would run afoul of the Federal Elections Commission for accepting an illicit in-kind donation. Providing valuable design work may present the same trouble. While the Federal Election Commission would not comment on the specific poster campaign, spokeswoman Mary Brandenberger tells Rolling Stone that "services offered free or at less than the usual charge result in an in-kind contribution."
Monteiro estimates that the campaign would have to spend anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000 to contract with a professional designer to create a poster for a national campaign. That sum is far in excess of the individual contribution limit of $2,500.
A lawyer in D.C. familiar with elections law writes in to make the case that such a donation of valuable design work could be kosher:
I'm skeptical of the campaign-finance angle on the Obama Jobs Poster. Assuming they're only accepting submissions from individuals--as opposed to design firms or other corporate entities--the Federal Election Campaign Act makes it very clear that "the value of services provided without compensation by any individual who volunteers on behalf of a candidate" is not a "contribution." 2 U.S.C. § 431(8)(B)(ii). The FEC's regulations say the same thing: "The value of services provided without compensation by any individual who volunteers on behalf of a candidate . . . is not a contribution." 11 CFR § 100.74.
Also, if you dig into the rules of the contest, you’ll see this:
12. Federal Election Campaign Act Compliance. You hereby represent and warrant that all equipment, materials and facilities used to produce the Poster are owned by you and were not provided by a corporation, labor union, foreign national or federal contractor. Any disposable materials purchased specifically to produce the Poster will be treated as in-kind contributions to the Sponsor.