News & Politics

Tiger King Joe Exotic Is Running for President

But can he do it from federal prison?

Photo of Joe Exotic via Netflix.

This week is the third anniversary of the 2020 pandemic shutdown, which brings up memories of the haze that was March 2020: the endless banana bread recipes, the virtual workouts, and of course, Tiger King, the hit Netflix docu-series starring Joe Exotic and his bleach-blond mullet. Now, the Tiger King himself is courting your vote for the highest office.

There’s just one thing:

“Yes, I know I am in Federal Prison and you might think this is a joke but it’s not.” His website reads. “It is my Constitutional right to do this even from here.”

In January 2020, Exotic, born Joseph Allen Maldonado, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for offering an undercover FBI agent $10,000 to kill his rival, Carole Baskin. He managed to reduce his sentence by one year, but his hopes for a pardon from then-President Donald Trump were dashed—and the victory limo he had waiting outside the jail left with no passenger. 

But can someone actually run for president from inside a federal prison? The constitution doesn’t rule it out. There are three requirements for candidates: They must be at least 35 years old, be a natural born US citizen, and have lived in the US for 14 years. Article Two makes no mention of a person’s incarceration status. 

In fact, Exotic wouldn’t be the first person to run for president from behind bars. In 1920, Eugene V. Debs, while serving a ten year sentence in an Atlanta penitentiary for violating the Espionage Act, ran and received nearly one million votes. 

Exotic, who also ran for president in 2016, pleads his case to voters in what may be the longest sentence on the internet:

“But you need to remember one very thing: I don’t give a damn what color you are, where you came from, who you sleep with, if you have done drugs in your past, or if you have made a mistake and ended up in jail or put there because someone lied about you, it is time we all put the past in the past and move this campaign forward and scare the hell out of these people because you and I want some answers, and on this website you will see some of the issues I want addressed, some of the changes I would like to see, and I want you to submit some of the issues you have so I can make them answer your questions.” 

It’s not quite as grabby as his 2015 video, in which he says “I’m broke as fuck, I know nothing about politics, but I can goddamn guarantee you I’ll listen to the people’s voices.” 

The issues Exotic wants to attack as president: prison and criminal justice reform, abolishing the IRS, and having other countries pay the US “land, oil, or money” in order to receive aid. Though fundraising will be a challenge from behind prison walls, his site urges fans to either donate or throw house parties in support of the “Make America Exotic Again” cause. 

It is not clear if Exotic has established a bank account for his committee funds, or reached out to Secretaries of State to gain ballot access, both of which are the first steps in any presidential campaign.  


Editorial Fellow

Keely recently graduated with her master’s in journalism from American University and has reported on local DC, national politics, and business. She has previously written for The Capitol Forum.