Andrew Yang announced Thursday that his presidential campaign will give away $1,000 a month in “Freedom Dividends” to 10 randomly selected families over the course of a year to test his proposed plan for universal basic income.
The entrepreneur and White House aspirant unveiled the plan during his opening statement at the debate in Houston featuring 10 of the contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“When you donate money to a presidential campaign, what happens? The politician spends the money on TV ads and consultants and you hope it works out,” he said. “It’s time to trust ourselves more than our politicians.”
Immediately after the announcement, Yang’s campaign tweeted a video of the candidate talking about the plan in a sweepstakes-like fashion and asking viewers to go to his campaign website and enter for the raffle.
“If you win, you’ll get the money, and you’ll get a whole lot of social media followers,” he said in the video while laughing.
The gambit is designed to spotlight the cornerstone of his campaign: the universal basic income proposal. Yang’s “Freedom Dividend” plan would give $1,000 a month to every U.S. citizen 18 and older as a way to deal with what he says is an economy disrupted by evolving technology and automation.
According to Politico, Yang’s campaign would pay out the money to the 10 families for the full year even if he does not become the Democratic nominee. Yang is already making a monthly $1,000 donation from his own personal finances to a family in New Hampshire, a family in Iowa and a family in Florida, all key states in presidential campaigns.
One potential problem for Yang: The online raffle’s legality is being questioned. Time magazine reported that some experts say handing out campaign funds for families to use for personal reasons may violate federal election law.
Yang’s announcement of his unusual plan prompted laughter from some of the nine other candidates on the debate stage, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Kamala Harris of California and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
“It’s original, I’ll give you that,” Buttigieg said of the plan.
Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian of Initialized Capital, who has previously shown support for Yang, rallied to his side on Twitter after the candidate announced the idea. Responding on Twitter to questions about the plan’s legality, he said he likes it “so much I’ll do it personally for those 10 people if you can’t.”
“Our nation needs to start exploring ways to adapt to the massive automation shift that’s already happening,” Ohanian said.
This story has been updated with Ohanian’s tweet. Keep up with HuffPost’s liveblog of Thursday’s Democratic debate in Houston here.