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Events in the news led me to wonder about campaign finance laws and to what extent they can be applied to activities other than cash donations. I formulated and included a hypothetical scenario which was inspired by current events in order to show the magnitude of that extent I was interested in.

I did not ask if this hypothetical happened, and I don't wish to receive answers that would address that.

In many SE sites the inclusion of an example is welcomed, and if you leave it out, comments follow asking for one, or unclear what you're asking votes without helpful comments appear. In Stack Overflow parlance for example (I know that's a stretch from politics) it's a Minimal, Complete, and Verifiable example or MCVE.

Here my example seems to have triggered the conspiracy theorist detector. I'd hoped to be informed about problems with the question and make adjustments quickly, but the close voting started before the comments, so I'll ask here instead.

  • How can one include a hypothetical example to help define the topic of a question?
  • Should one include a hypothetical example to help define the topic of a question?

I'd added the comment there

If I abstracted the scenario, asking only about "actions that result in a newsworthy event that benefits a campaign" without the benefits of an clarifying example, I wonder if that would ally some concerns?

Would that be the better way to proceed?

The body of my question:

Trying to understand how things other than direct cash donations can also be considered campaign contributions in the US, I've formulated the following scenario to explain the thing of potential value; money and resources spent which may benefit a campaign, but not a direct contribution.

If I spent my personal funds on an international trip based from the US, where I travelled from town to town in another country and simply talked to people, and for whatever reason this led to many people getting the idea that this would be a good time to start a caravan, and if the large size and timing of that caravan resulted in it becoming a rallying point in many campaigns in the US with a central coordinated theme or proponent, would my travel-related expenditures in the US (or perhaps abroad as well) qualify as a campaign contribution in the US at a state level in non-presidential years?

If I did it two years later before a presidential election, at the federal level as well?

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    I think your question is fine, by the way. – Martin Tournoij Oct 26 '18 at 2:02
  • @MartinTournoij several years ago I would have though a lot of scenarios now taking place in the US to be "implausible", and yet, here they are... ;-) – uhoh Oct 26 '18 at 2:05
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    Yeah, the questions used as examples are different; but it seems to me that the core question that you're asking here is pretty much the same, and that ohwilleke's answer applies perfectly here, too? The first three paragraphs (the most important ones) can be copy/pasted here without changes. Either way, "duplicates" on meta aren't a huge deal IMHO, so I don't care if this stays open if you don't agree it's a dupe. – Martin Tournoij Oct 26 '18 at 2:13
  • @MartinTournoij but now there is a much better answer to my question – uhoh Oct 27 '18 at 4:15
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The problem that arises here is that this "example" is purely partisan. While I tend to find the possibility interesting, many others are going to find this example pointed at them. Why? Let me rewrite it as I suspect they see it:

If an opponent of Donald Trump spent personal funds on an international trip based from the US, travelled from town to town in another country and simply talked to people, and for whatever reason this led to many people getting the idea that this would be a good time to start a caravan, and if the large size and timing of that caravan resulted in it becoming a rallying point in many campaigns in the US without a centrally coordinated theme or proponent, would the travel-related expenditures in the US (or perhaps abroad as well) qualify as a campaign contribution in the US at a state level in non-presidential years?

If the opponent of President Trump did it two years later before a presidential election, at the federal level as well?

Now, there is a real caravan fitting this description. Is there a real person from the United States who participated in such activities? This rather promotes that question.

This raises a bunch of questions:

  1. Did it happen?
  2. Who did it?
  3. Was it done with intent?
  4. Are travel expenses for this purpose a campaign expense?
  5. To what campaign or campaigns?
  6. Did they know about it beforehand?

This is further confused by the fact that the campaigns making this an issue may be politically opposed to the individual who engaged in the activity. I.e. the person may have wanted to make this an issue for the opposite reason that it is becoming an issue.

And of course you mention state level campaign finance laws. There are fifty different states with fifty different laws. So there's fifty more questions.

An MCVE is supposed to narrow the question to make it more answerable. This expands into many subquestions, some of which are Too Broad on their own.

If you want to ask one of those subquestions, perhaps you should identify which one. Then if you wanted to offer an example, you might get some help making a good example. Perhaps one that is a bit more hypothetical. Or that better separates the hypothetical from the known.

  • This is exactly the answer I needed to read; thank you for taking the time to walk me through this carefully and thoughtfully. I'd add my vote now to close the question but I don't have the rep here yet. – uhoh Oct 27 '18 at 4:10
  • since the question continues to accumulate down votes, I'll likely just delete it soon, since the same text is already captured above in my question. Luckily this meta question wasn't also closed (as duplicate) before you had the opportunity to post this much better answer! – uhoh Oct 27 '18 at 4:13
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I'd suggest making any examples seperate from the question. An example might serve to clarify a good question, but if the answer depends on a long complicated example, that's what makes it a hypothetical question and tends to diminish value to other users.

You might try rephrasing by asking a shorter, that encourages a long answer, rather than a yes/no answer. E.g. "What factors determine if a personal expenditure is legally considered a campaign contribution in the US?" (Note however that question probably belongs in law.stackexchange.com rather than politics, based on the current help center guidance.)

Complexity of your hypothetical works against the value of the question as well. As stands, the question (starting "If I spent my...") is now a 109 words terminated with a question mark. The difficulty of understanding it can be estimated with a Gunning Fog Index of over 48, which scores as virtually unreadable, which also diminishes the value of the question to others.

  • If you consider my example question, you would find it is open-ended, but not hypothetical. – Burt_Harris Oct 26 '18 at 6:54
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    OK, perhaps "open-ended" was bad word choice, I've edited it out, does that help clarify? – Burt_Harris Oct 26 '18 at 7:06
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    P.S. Best rated question on-topic for politics seems to be "Why doesn’t the IRS just send me a bill for the taxes I owe based on the info they already have?". That's got a fog index of 10.3. You can use usingenglish.com/resources/text-statistics.php to verify on your own. – Burt_Harris Oct 26 '18 at 7:17
  • Best rated by democratic (subjective) means: votes. Where are you that it's afternoon? – Burt_Harris Oct 26 '18 at 7:33
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    Readability indexes & political speaches in US History: priceonomics.com/… – Burt_Harris Oct 26 '18 at 12:51
  • The Flesch–Kincaid grade level metric is scaled to a similar measure as fog index is. One small sample of The Economist articles showed F-K grade-levels between 10 and 11. See comments in editions.lib.umn.edu/smartpolitics/2012/01/25/… – Burt_Harris Oct 26 '18 at 18:15

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