The Federal Election Commission has dismissed a complaint accusing Fox News of making illegal campaign contributions to Republican Sen. Josh Hawley’s campaign, according to documents made public on Friday.
The original complaint, filed in March 2019 by Florida lawyer Michael Edelman, argued that when Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro appeared alongside former President Donald Trump at a November 2018 rally in support of Hawley, they were acting as “agents” for Fox News Corporation and thus making an illegal corporate in-kind contribution to the Missouri’s Republican’s campaign.
Ahead of the rally, Hannity had declared that he would “not be on stage campaigning with the President” but would instead be interviewing Trump before the rally and covering the event for his show.
But then Trump called him up to the podium anyway, prompting Hannity to tell Trump that he “had no idea you were going to invite me up here.”
At the time, Fox News issued a statement condemning Hannity and Pirro’s appearance at the rally, calling the incident an “unfortunate distraction” while declaring that the company “does not condone any talent participating in campaign events.” Fox did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
“This was NOT planned,” Hannity wrote in a tweet that now appears to have been deleted.
In response to the complaint, the network’s lawyers put forward two distinct arguments: that Hannity and Pirro were acting in a volunteer capacity and not as employees of Fox, and that even if they were, appearing at a rally was simply part of fulfilling their roles as journalists.
Arguing that their appearances were “not at the direction or on behalf of Fox News,” lawyers Caleb Burns and Andrew Woodson argued that Hannity and Pirro didn’t plan to appear on stage with Trump, pointed to their remarks as they took the stage.
“You want me to say something?” Pirro said to Trump as he adjusted the microphone for her at the podium, which the lawyers highlighted in their response.
But beyond that, Fox’s lawyers argued that it was nonetheless legitimate activity for journalists.
“Journalists and commentators depend on developing relationships with sources in order to access information that matters to their viewer,” wrote Burns and Woodson. “By speaking on-stage at the President’s insistence — as well as mingling with others backstage — Mr. Hannity and Ms. Pirro were developing and cultivating the necessary relationships and raising their profiles as journalists and commentators.”
In a February 2020 legal analysis, the commission’s legal counsel accepted Fox’s argument, noting that all publicly-available information indicating that Hannity and Pirro did appear in their personal capacities.
“Neither Hannity nor Pirro mentioned Fox News in their comments, Fox News did not cover or broadcast their comments, and it disavowed their appearances the very next day,” read the ana…