WASHINGTON—The wheels of bureaucracy can’t stop turning here, so the Federal Election Commission last month wrote a letter to God asking for bona fides.
Not that One.
The one who goes by the same name, calls Staten Island home and filed in March to run for President of the United States.
Because the FEC’s charter requires it to treat all candidates seriously, its bureaucrats politely questioned God’s identity and asked why the candidate hadn’t included an accurate principal campaign committee and custodian of records.
“The FEC has no opinion on the existence of God,” Ellen Weintraub, one of the agency’s six commissioners, tweeted this month. “But if she wants to run for U.S. president, she has to fill out her forms like anyone else.”
Satan, of College Station, Texas, got a similar letter.
“Dear Candidate: It has come to the attention of the Federal Election Commission,” the agency wrote to the campaign of Satan Lord of the Underworld Prince of Darkness for a Brighter Future, “that you may have failed to include an accurate candidate name and an accurate principal campaign committee.”
FEC officials are writing letters this year to many of the nearly 1,900 hopefuls who have registered with the agency to launch 2016 presidential campaigns.
That’s up from 420 in the 2012 election and includes candidates Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Captain Crunch, The Ghost of Christmas Present, Mickey Mouse and Francis Underwood.
Many more are filing this time because, since February 2015, the FEC has given candidates the option to take the first step toward the White House on an online form rather than paper.
“It’s easier to file for the FEC than it is to create a Gmail account,” said Ajay Madala, a San Jose, Calif., eighth-grader who in August filed to make a 1920 penny a presidential candidate under the name One Cent Piece.
If human, the penny would meet constitutional requirements that a candidate be a natural-born citizen and aged at least 35.
“Any time somebody files a registration, it starts all sorts of wheels rolling” at the FEC, said Ms. Weintraub, the commissioner. Its analysts must review all reports for accuracy.
“It’s not the crime of the century,” she said. Still, “you are taking up the time of government employees who have to unclog the system.”
The FEC’s mandate is to make sure candidates are who they say they are and file proper documentation throughout the campaign. It isn’t for the FEC to judge whether Cranky Pants is a legitimate contender.
In an Aug. 31 letter to Cranky for President 2016 in Litchfield Park, Ariz., the FEC delivered the message God and Satan got, suggesting the campaign, listing Cranky Pants as candidate, “may have failed to include an accurate candidate name.”
Emailed for comment at the address in the filing, Mr. Pants was buttoned up.
Even if Cranky Pants makes the FEC cut, he isn’t likely to get a box alongside Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s names. Candidates must petition the 50 states and the District of Columbia to get on their ballots.
The FEC can “administratively terminate” candidates, but that typically takes years. Its hopes of getting suspected phonies to withdraw by November lie mainly in threatening legal action.
Rocky Balboa got an FEC letter last month noting that “knowingly and willfully making any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation to a federal government agency…is punishable under the provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 1001.”
“I figured, oh my goodness, they’re taking me seriously,” said J. Purkaple, an aspiring actor living in Gladstone, Mo., who filed for a campaign dubbed “Rocky Balboa Running, to the sound of his theme song, for Pres. 2016.”
“I guess I am in trouble now,” he said.
“Nobody is going to go to jail over this,” said Ms. Weintraub, the commissioner. “But it is not a cost-free operation.”
Americans have made fictitious-sounding FEC filings since the 1976 presidential election, just after the agency’s creation, when a George Washington filed. The 2012 election included Santa Claus and President Emperor Caesar.
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Election 2016’s candidate proliferation traces partly to Stephen Colbert, said campaign-finance lawyer Brett Kappel. The comedian in 2011 created a super PAC poking fun at special interests’ influence.
Millions saw how easy it was to form FEC-approved campaign entities, and Americans launched more than 600 PACs with names such as Joe Six PAC and Bringin’ Sexy PAC.
Then the FEC opened its online-filing site, aiming to make filing easier and reduce paperwork at the agency.
The electronic-paperwork flood that followed led it last month to direct staff to contact candidates whose filings included “fictional characters, obscene language, sexual references, celebrities (where there is no indication that the named celebrity submitted the filing), animals or similarly implausible entries.” Letters such as the ones to God and Satan went out.
The letters may have prompted some to vanish, such as Ronald Reagan’s Ghost, of Rochester, Minn., who last week filed a termination report, FEC records show.
Jacob Simmons, a recent college graduate, registered under The No Bull Committee, designating his college roommate as treasurer—while drunk, he said. He said he has received increasingly stern FEC reminders to file fundraising reports.
Mr. Simmons, of North Falmouth, Mass., said he wants to drop out but hasn’t figured out how to. The FEC website gives instructions for withdrawing but no obvious hyperlink to the termination form, and some candidates report finding the process confusing.
To celebrate his 35th birthday, Stentor Danielson filed as Happy Laughterson’s MERRY Band of Unicorns. The FEC wrote that his presidential committee, in Pittsburgh, needed a candidate’s name.
The environmental-science professor renamed his campaign Happy Laughterson’s MERRY Band of Unicorns for Stentor Danielson. That apparently satisfied election officials, who didn’t request more on his initial filing. Instead, they bombarded him with notices about his financial reports, he said, and he is trying to figure out how to withdraw.
Writing to God’s Staten Island campaign, an FEC analyst said: “Form 1 must include the name, address, and type of committee, and, if the committee is authorized by a candidate, the name, office sought (including state and congressional district, when applicable) and party affiliation,” giving 30 days to reply.
God didn't respond to requests for comment emailed to the candidate’s listed address. Nor did Satan.
Write to Brody Mullins at email@example.com