Candidate Thomas Ravenel says nothing improper in TV show payments

Thomas Ravenel

Independent U.S. Senate candidate Thomas Ravenel said he plans to accept the $5,000 per episode he's being paid to appear on "Southern Charm" and that nothing in federal election law prohibits it.

"They can make a challenge but it is totally bogus," Ravenel said Thursday of anyone who wished to file a protest.

Earlier this year, the Federal Election Commission issued a draft advisory opinion in connection to a separate reality TV show under consideration involving another candidate for Congress, this one in New York.

Nick Di Iorio and campaign manager Joe Shippee had asked the FEC for an advisory ruling on whether they could turn his longshot run into a proposed TV series. They eventually withdrew their request and the matter was never formally voted on.

But the FEC did release a draft advisory opinion in July on their question. And while the opinion was never voted on and is non-binding, it did address some of the central questions of their query.

For starters, the document said election law did allow for the show to be filmed and that the candidate and his staff could be shown. But it also warned that they could not receive any financial payment for doing so.

According to the draft, both federal election law and the commission's own regulations "provide that candidates and political committees may not knowingly receive from a corporation any 'contribution' which includes 'anything of value' given for the purpose of influencing a federal election or given by a corporation to a candidate or campaign committee in connection with a federal election."

Ravenel and his campaign, meanwhile, said Thursday that his situation was different. They also noted that his role had been vetted by lawyers and that he had been assured that his participation in the Bravo network's show was not in violation.

Sign up for updates!

Get the latest political news from The Post and Courier in your inbox.

"Obviously, Thomas's situation is materially different than Mr. Di Iorio's situation," said attorney Brett Kappel, of Arent Fox LLP, a law firm and lobbying group with offices around the country.

"Mr. Di Iorio was only asked to appear in the reality show after and because he became a candidate," Kappel's statement continued. "The reality show was essentially paying him to be a candidate. Thomas was already a cast member on a reality show before he became a candidate and the second season of 'Southern Charm' is merely a continuation of the work he was doing before he became a candidate."

Ravenel is one of three candidates looking to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in November. Also on the ballot are Democrat Brad Hutto and Libertarian Victor Kocher.

Graham campaign manager Scott Farmer said Thursday he was aware of the earlier FEC draft on political campaign TV shows but that there were no plans for the Graham camp to raise it as an issue.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551