Ariel Zimman is taking a decidedly grassroots approach to supporting Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. But the legality of her handiwork is hazy, at best.
The 29-year-old resident of Portland, Oregon, is marketing homemade ceramic pipes emblazoned with decals of Sanders’ head and campaign logo.
Her pro-Sanders “smoking ware” — targeted at the “Burners for Bernie” set — sells for $60 apiece. And she advertises that 10 percent of her proceeds will benefit the self-described socialist from Vermont who has emerged as an unexpectedly serious challenger to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
“It was really just a way to show my support for him as a candidate,” Zimman told the Center for Public Integrity. “People love [the pipes], and once they hear they are contributing in some way to the campaign, they are all about that too.”
But artists like Zimman looking to make a buck off Bernie best beware: While most observers say political campaigns are unlikely to take legal action against their own supporters, attorneys say entrepreneurs open themselves to risk by using candidates’ names, likenesses or logos — especially when promising to donate a specific portion of their sales.
“You can’t promise to pass the money along to the candidate,” said Joe Birkenstock, an attorney at Sandler Reiff who previously served as the chief counsel of the Democratic National Committee.
“If I was advising one of these vendors, I would probably advise them to be a little less specific in their solicitation,” echoed Larry Noble, a former top lawyer for the Federal Election Commission who now works at the Campaign Legal Center.
That’s a step that Sanders-supporting artist Jackie Dandelion of Beacon, New York, has already taken.
Dandelion sells her “Another Mermaid for Bernie Sanders” bumper stickers for $8.50 apiece. She used to advertise that she’d donate 25 percent of each sale to Sanders. Now she simply notes that a portion of the proceeds — an unspecified figure greater than 25 percent — goes to his campaign.
“Just know when you purchase from me, you're purchasing from someone who actively supports Bernie Sanders for president,” she wrote on the peer-to-peer e-commerce website Etsy.com.
Other lawyers contacted by the Center for Public Integrity didn’t find these activities as troubling.
Ken Gross, who leads the political law practice at Skadden Arps, noted that such artists are “actually doing good for the campaign,” even if the products they make are not licensed or authorized.
“I can’t imagine the campaign going against them,” Gross said. “They’re supporters. They don’t want to turn them off.”