Mr. Yang’s advisers said Thursday it was their understanding that the personal use statute applies only to a candidate and his campaign.
The $1,000 payments would begin sometime in the fall and would continue once a month for a year, regardless of whether Mr. Yang remained in the race for president, his campaign said. Advisers said they would ask people to apply for the dividends on the campaign website and would select the recipients based on their applications.
Mr. Yang’s campaign has framed the planned payments as an original idea never previously undertaken by a presidential candidate. One expert in campaign finance law said he could not recall a time when the F.E.C. had been forced to consider the legality of a stipend like the one Mr. Yang is proposing.
“Andrew Yang’s use of campaign funds to give ‘freedom dividends’ to supporters would push the boundaries of, and perhaps break, campaign finance law,” said Paul Seamus Ryan, a vice president at Common Cause, a nonpartisan organization that promotes government accountability. “This unprecedented use of campaign funds would give rise to a bunch of novel legal questions.”
Mr. Yang’s advisers raised a similar point Thursday, noting that the unusual nature of the giveaway means that federal agencies have not yet issued a definitive ruling on its legality. However, they asserted that those agencies would find their arguments convincing.
Experts noted that every person who gets paid by a campaign in exchange for goods and services, or both — like caterers at a campaign event — eventually cashes their paycheck and uses the money for personal expenses, exercising a sort of “conversion” that the F.E.C. does not prohibit. They suggested that to bolster his legal argument, Mr. Yang’s campaign could potentially ask the dividend recipients to perform tasks as a condition of getting the money and then argue that the payments are permissible because they represent compensation at market value. (Mr. Yang, however, has repeatedly said that the dividends he is proposing would be given out with no strings attached.)
Under normal circumstances, experts said, Mr. Yang’s campaign could have requested an advisory opinion from the F.E.C., but the resignation of one of its members last month left the agency one person short of a quorum. As a result, it is unable to take basic actions, including issuing opinions and levying fines for campaign finance violations.