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Jeb, Still a 'Non-Candidate,' Tests Fundraising Rules

Jeb, Still a 'Non-Candidate,' Tests Fundraising Rules
(Laura Segall/Getty Images)

By    |   Wednesday, 03 June 2015 09:44 AM

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is doing everything toward a presidential candidacy except for officially announcing his campaign, leaving election experts to say he has passed the legal threshold for being considered a candidate.

"When you look at the totality of the activities, could a reasonable person conclude anything other than that he is seeking the presidency?" Karl Sandstrom, a campaign finance lawyer who served on the Federal Election Commission (FEC), told The New York Times.

By not declaring his candidacy, Sandstrom said, Bush is making "a mockery of the law."

According to federal law, anyone who raises or spends $5,000 to become president is a candidate, making that person subject to spending and disclosure restrictions.

People who say they are "testing the waters" are given some leeway. But Bush has been traveling around the country, has hired a political team, and has raised tens of millions of dollars, all of which point to a campaign.

Once Bush officially declares his candidacy, he and his campaign would be subject to  a $2,700 limit for contributions and a ban on coordinating with Right to Rise, the super PAC that is raising money for him.

Actually, there are two PACs, both called Right to Rise, reports the Times. Through them, the newspaper reported, Bush and his advisers collect money for his appearances, which often cost $25,000 a person, rather than collecting money through an official campaign organization.

While Bush's continued refusal to announce a campaign is raising eyebrows, politicians are indeed given a great deal of freedom when it comes to exploring a campaign, former FEC Commissioner David Mason told the Times.

"You can’t enforce the law based on what everybody 'knows' because that requires you to be a mind reader," Mason said. “The broad impression — 'oh yeah, he’s campaigning, he’s been in Iowa, he made a speech, then went to New Hampshire' — is not enough to make him a candidate."

Bush has said repeatedly that he has not made a decision about running, even though he slipped during a Nevada interview in May, telling reporters that "I am running for president in 2016," before quickly adding "if I run."

But there are many who are questioning if Bush is violating federal law by not declaring himself as a candidate. On Sunday, those questions lead now-retired "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer, in one of his final interviews on the show, to ask Bush if he was violating the law by not announcing his campaign.

Bush replied that he and his camp are "going to completely adhere to the law, for sure," and that he is "nearing the end of this journey of traveling and listening to people, garnering, trying to get a sense of whether my candidacy would be viable or not."

Schieffer then asked Bush, "Now you’re not telling me there's a possibility you may not run?"

Bush responded, "Look, I hope I — I hope I run, to be honest with you. I would like to run. But I haven’t made the decision."

Two campaign watchdog groups, Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, have called for a Justice Department investigation into whether Bush is breaking election laws, saying the FEC is unlikely to do anything.

The groups filed the same campaign finance evasion complaints in March with the FEC against Bush and three others, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, both Republicans.

O'Malley and Santorum have since declared their candidacies, and Walker told Fox News' "Fox & Friends" show on Wednesday that he'll likely make an announcement after his state's budget is finalized.

"You can say you haven’t decided," said Trevor Potter, the president of the Campaign Legal Center. "But if you go off and look like a candidate and act like a candidate and amass funds, it doesn’t matter. You are a candidate in the eyes of the law."

And Bush, who arrives at stops in a black SUV and talks about his positions, seems to many like a candidate, and told businessmen in New Hampshire last month that "I really like campaigning," but "I'm not a candidate."

"Let me be clear," he said in Florida this week, "If I run, if I'm a candidate — and that decision is going to be coming real soon — my intention is to run on my record and my ideas and try to win the presidency."

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Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is doing everything toward a presidential candidacy except for officially announcing his campaign, leaving election experts to say he has passed the legal threshold for being considered a candidate.
jeb bush, super pac, campaign, financing, fundraising, law
Wednesday, 03 June 2015 09:44 AM
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