Campaign watchdog groups say three potential Republican presidential candidates and one Democrat are violating election law by using outside groups as shell campaigns while they test the political waters.
The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 have filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission against Republicans Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Rick Santorum, as well as against Democrat Martin O’Malley, accusing the four of breaking rules governing undeclared candidates, The Hill reports.
"These 2016 presidential contenders must take the American people for fools — flying repeatedly to Iowa and New Hampshire to meet with party leaders and voters, hiring campaign staff and raising millions of dollars from deep-pocketed mega donors, all the while denying that they are even ‘testing the waters’ of a presidential campaign," Paul Ryan, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center,
said in a statement.
"But federal campaign finance law is no joke and the candidate contribution limits kick in as soon as a person begins raising and spending money to determine whether they’re going to run for office. Bush, O’Malley, Santorum and Walker appear to be violating federal law."
International Business Times notes
candidates used to follow a common process of forming an an exploratory committee to raise money and pay for expenses like traveling to early primary states.
The advent of the super PAC, which can raise and spend without limits, has changed all that.
For the 2016 race, just two candidates have opted to form an exploratory committee – former Virginia Democratic Sen. Jim Webb, and Republican Ben Carson, IBTimes reports.
Meanwhile, Walker has created a "527 political committee" – named after the part of the tax code that allows groups to raise money to influence campaigns – called Our American Revival, the IBTimes reports.
Bush launched his Right to Rise PAC when he announced he was exploring a White House run, and Santorum started his Patriot Voices PAC in 2012, the newspaper reports.
O'Malley also has been using his PAC, O’ Say Can You See, since 2012 to support other Democrats and raise funds as his national profile increased, IBTimes reports.
Three of the four potential contenders refuted the complaint.
"Our PAC has been fully compliant with the law," O’Malley’s spokeswoman Lis Smith told the IBTimes.
Bush's spokeswoman Allie Brandenburger told the newspaper that if Bush "engages in any testing-the-waters activities, they will be paid for appropriately under the law and reported at the required time."
And Walker's spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said the governor "has been talking to Americans about his reform-minded principles in Wisconsin through the issues based organization Our American Revival," and that "if there are any announcements about his future he will do it in accordance with the law."
Santorum didn't have an immediate comment.
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