As homes across the country started pre-heating the ovens and prepping the feast for Thanksgiving, Jill Stein started gearing up—er, crowdfunding for a recount vote. Here’s where the law stands on that.

Recounts with the power to change outcomes aren’t unheard of, but they are rare. Until now the most infamous recount in recent memory was the 2000 presidential election between Gore and Bush. But in a (very) heated election year, there’s been more of a groundswell than ever to in some way invalidate the electoral college win of Donald Trump. Enter Jill Stein.

Different jurisdictions have different rules for what qualifies for a recount, but there are always two camps: mandatory and optional. Depending on the place a slim enough margin of difference (say, under 1 percent, like in in Wyoming) may trigger a mandatory recount. The 2004 gubernatorial race in Washington (a state which requires a difference of less than 2000 votes and also less than .5 percent) came down to just 129 vote difference, which obviously triggered a mandatory recount without party intervention.

But Stein’s case is an optional recount. She’s moving for a recount in three states; Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Once again the rules vary—not all states even allow for optional recounts, a subsection of those that do only allow the top two candidates to petition, others allow party officials or voters—but the three states “in play” all allow any candidate to call for a recount (although technically Pennsylvania only permits them to appeal for a recount).

The catch, and the way crowdfunding works into all this, is that the petitioner must pay a deposit when they call for a recount. If the vote is reversed in their direction, they get their deposit back. If not, the petitioner has to pay all costs associated with the recount. Since Stein—who nationally took only about 1 percent of the vote—will not be winning any of the recounts, she’ll almost certainly have to pay up at the end of this, even if the electoral college count gets shaken up.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore cc
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore cc

Which has a lot of voters reaching for their checkbooks. By the end of the first day Stein had reached the fundraising goal of $2.5 million, and her team increased the donation goal to $4.5 million in order to account for higher costs. By the Friday after Thanksgiving they had reached $5 million, and Stein and her team are now calling for $7 million, to help assist with attorney’s fees and recount observers in the three states. And at the time of this writing, they’re only a little more than $700,000 shy of that goal.

But that moving goal posts has people antsy. After all, though crowdfunding’s ubiquity has been growing as a way to fund causes and campaigns people care about over the years, there’s also been a handful of fraud cases associated with it. Stein’s camp was not immediately forthcoming about what would happen if the campaign didn’t reach its goals.

That’s a move the FTC does not recommend. In fact, these days they actively fight against it. Since its first enforcement in June of last year, the commission has established that while crowdfunding has a countercultural feeling, they expect traditional results. As Melissa Landau Steinman and Laura Arredondo-Santisteban write for All About Advertising Law:

…according to the FTC, if you are running a crowdfunding campaign, you should:

  1. Keep your promises when crowdfunding. If you promise rewards, give them. If you promise refunds, provide them.
  2. Use the money raised from crowdfunding only for the purpose represented. If you collect money for a specified project, like a board game or potato salad haiku, use the money only for that purpose. Don’t use it for personal purposes or to start another project.

Sometimes, even great ideas are doomed, it’s true.  But don’t doom yourself with regulators, too:  keep your promises.

Hours (and over $600,000) into her crowdfunding campaign Stein would make her promises clearer, but those guarantees and fine print are an important addendum to those who want to donate to her cause without donating to Stein herself. Namely, the clause lower down that states: “We cannot guarantee a recount will happen in any of these states we are targeting. We can only pledge we will demand recounts in WI and MI and support the voter-initiated effort in PA.”

It’s likely an significant promise in light of the FTC as well as to folks thinking about contributing to her campaign. She’s technically making an assurance she can now fulfill, noting that if there’s a surplus or a failed recount attempt her and her team will “go toward election integrity efforts and to promote voting system reform” (something her and her team did in 2004 as well). Stein’s campaign says there’s nothing fishy about their evolving goals and language; once they got more information about the recount they changed the text to make it clearer. You can even see the evolution of language and money pouring in via the Wayback Machine.

Whether it’s a “scam” as many have posited—seems we’ll find out soon. Either way, Wisconsin is already prepping for a recount. But with the watchful eyes of a nation, a president-elect, and the FTC are all on this crowdfunding venture, and they’ll be expecting a lot more than just potato salad, even if it ultimately may not change much.