Andrew Yang began teasing on Sept. 10 before the third presidential debate that his campaign will do “something no presidential candidate has ever done before in history.”
He kept that promise by announcing in his opening statement on Sept. 12 that he would give away $1,000 a month—$120,000 a year—to 10 randomly selected families as part of a pilot program for his universal basic income (UBI) proposal.
“My campaign will now give a freedom dividend of $1,000 a month for an entire year to 10 American families, someone watching this at home right now,” Yang said.
As of Sept. 16, four days after the debate, nearly half a million people have entered the $1,000-a-month giveaway. The contest closed on Sept. 19 at 11:59 p.m. ET.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Sen. Cory Booker had the most speaking time during the debate, while Yang had the least. The New York Times reports that Biden spoke for 17 minutes and 35 seconds; Warren for 16 minutes, 34 seconds; and Booker for 14 minutes, 46 seconds. Yang received just seven minutes and 58 seconds of speaking time, but his giveaway got him a lot of attention online.
When asked about its legality, Yang told CNN, “If I gave a million dollars to a media company or consultants or hired like a small army of canvassers, no one would blink an eye. But if we give the money directly to the American people, somehow that’s problematic.”
Deborah Hellman, a law professor at the University of Virginia School of Law who has written about campaign finance law, told CBS News she doesn’t think the offer is illegal, because it doesn’t implicitly or explicitly ask for anything in return.
“I would think that Yang’s proposal is not illegal as he isn’t suggesting that he will give money to voters in exchange for their votes, either explicitly or implicitly,” Hellman said.
She said the U.S. Supreme Court has been clear that ingratiation isn’t corruption.
The UBI proposal is a central part of Yang’s campaign. The idea is for the government to give $1,000 per month to every American over the age of 18. You don’t get less money if you have a high-paying job, for example. And if you’re already getting housing assistance or food stamps, you can choose between keeping your current setup or switching over to Yang’s UBI program.