Family members often help out on campaigns, stuffing envelopes, making phone calls, and smiling on stage. Usually, it’s for free.
Senator Scott Brown’s campaign has spent $9,500 since December 2010 to pay his daughter to sing at three campaign events, including a pair of Christmas parties.
Ayla Brown, a performer and a onetime “American Idol’’ contestant, has been part of Brown’s appeal since he won a special election in 2010.
Brown, a Republican, is now locked in a tight race against Elizabeth Warren, the likely Democratic nominee. His payments to his daughter appear in his campaign finance reports as disbursements to Ambient Entertainment LLC, Ayla Brown’s representative.
Federal election law allows the campaign to compensate Ayla Brown at fair market value, but she can also choose to volunteer her services, according to two campaign finance attorneys and a 1980 Federal Election Commission opinion.
The Brown campaign could not say what portion of the performance fees went to Ayla Brown and how much went to those they described as her bandmates. Nor could it say how many people played in her backup band.
But the campaign said in a statement that it paid Ayla Brown in part to avoid putting those bandmates in an awkward situation, by asking them to volunteer at a political event.
“Everything was done properly and in full compliance with [Federal Election Commission] regulations,’’ campaign manager Jim Barnett said in a statement. “It is far more impractical to sort out any individual band member’s relatively small cut of the compensation and reimbursement than to simply pay the band the fair market value for their services. It would have been entirely inappropriate to suggest to other band members that they donate their professional services to the father of their lead singer.’’
Attempts to reach Ayla Brown yesterday were unsuccessful. Her publicist said the singer was traveling, but that she would leave her a message.
The 1980 Federal Election Commission opinion said entertainers may donate their time to campaigns “without the value of those services being considered as a contribution either for limit purposes or disclosure purposes.’’
Entertainers are also allowed to accept payment at full market value if they choose not to volunteer.
But even if performers do volunteer their services, campaigns must either pay for their expenses, including equipment rental and travel, or count them against federal limits on donations.
Ayla Brown lives in Nashville and is under contract to sing the national anthem at Philadelphia 76ers games. She also performs in Massachusetts.
Big-name acts who perform at political events seldom charge a fee, said Matthew Sanderson, a Washington-based campaign finance attorney who has worked for the presidential campaigns of Senator John McCain of Arizona and Governor Rick Perry of Texas.
“The Obama campaign is not going to pay the going rate for Jay-Z to perform a small concert,’’ Sanderson said. “That would be crazy.’’
But less-celebrated guests are often compensated when they perform at fund-raisers, said Jan Baran, a longtime campaign finance lawyer who heads the election law group at Wiley Rein in Washington and often represents Republican candidates.
Baran said he could not think of another candidate with a relative who sings professionally.
The law prohibits candidates from paying family members unless they are performing a bona fide service.
“Presumably, his daughter can sing, and he paid fair market value,’’ said Baran.Noah Bierman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.