A Guyana-born American citizen with virtually no political background is asking the Federal Election Commission whether he can run for president of the United States.
New York lawyer Abdul Hassan was born in the northern South American country in 1974. Hassan, 37, wants to know whether he can start raising funds as a candidate for president. His advisory opinion request puts the FEC in the rare role of deciding a large constitutional issue that has only a few intersections with campaign finance law.
The two commonly held constitutional requirements to run for president are that the candidate be 35 years or older and be a “natural born citizen.” Releasing the request Wednesday afternoon suggests the FEC is taking it seriously. The agency could vote on an official opinion during the next 60 days.
Hassan said in an interview he has almost no political background but is a “political junkie” with various legislative ideas.
“I follow politics closely, but I have never held elected office,” he said. “I would admit that I am not well-known, and I would admit that my chances of winning are not as good as other candidates. That’s obvious.”
Although he was realistic about his chances, he maintained that his presidential run is serious. He said he has a contract with Google and a website that explains his policy ideas on topics such as the national deficit.
“I don’t believe you can solve this problem by tax increases or budget cuts,” he said. “So what I propose doing is having the Federal Reserve buy the government bonds to pay the deficit.”
He also has a novel legal argument for his issue before the FEC. “The Fifth Amendment prohibits national origin discrimination, which is the very thing that the natural-born requirement does,” he said. He also said he has other 14th Amendment arguments that could be persuasive.
Although Hassan said he sees the far-reaching implications of his FEC request on future candidates, he did not make his request as a response to long-refuted claims that President Barack Obama was not born in America.
“I wasn’t even thinking about the birthers, though I am ideologically opposed to people on the birther side of the argument,” he said. In 2008, Hassan said he filed a lawsuit that also challenged the validity of the “natural-born” requirement and is waiting for a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit during the next few months. He added that he would take his argument all the way to the Supreme Court if he has the opportunity.
Some of those who follow the FEC said Hassan’s request is almost unprecedented because it puts the FEC in the position of defining constitutional law. “I have never seen anything like it before,” said Paul S. Ryan, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center who works on election law issues.
But Hassan rejected the idea that his request was a legal or judicial stunt to clarify an issue that he has found divisive. He said his questions are squarely in the FEC’s jurisdiction of the Federal Election Campaign Act. They include basic queries of whether he can solicit money as a presidential candidate and whether he needs to open a presidential candidate committee after reaching the $5,000 threshold necessary for disclosure.
“I need to know what I need to file,” he said.