Former Republican National Committee staff members and establishment Republican consultants are joining the Jeb Bush Presidential campaign team in droves.
But unlike campaigns of earlier presidential cycles, the 2016 Jeb Bush campaign will not consist of a single controlling campaign committee. Instead, it will be comprised of three separate organizations, each with a very specific set of responsibilities that have been hammered out in extensive behind-the-scenes strategy sessions involving all the key players, and most likely including Bush himself.
The first organization is the traditional Jeb Bush for President campaign committee.
The second organization is Jeb Bush’s SuperPAC, Right to Rise PAC, which is rumored to already have raised close to $100 million.
The third organization is what the New York Times has called “a personalized ‘data trust’ that sells information to both Mr. Bush’s campaign and his super PAC.”
As the Washington Post reported last week:
Bush’s team is considering running many of a campaign’s typical operations through its super PAC, including phone banks and voter turnout. The campaign itself would handle Bush’s travel and getting him in front of voters.
Not only has the Bush team developed an integrated campaign strategy among these three organizations that is highly sophisticated, it appears to have been able to staff it almost entirely from existing relationships within the RNC and Republican establishment. That includes former Facebook and RNC staffer Andy Barkett as a digital guru, along with several others.
In contrast, Marco Rubio is apparently the only other candidate to date who has landed a staffer with a high profile RNC pedigree—former 2012 Romney campaign staffer and one-time RNC political director Rich Beeson.
Here’s the scorecard, so far, of the former RNC staffers and Republican establishment consultants who are headed to these three inter-related Jeb Bush campaign entities:
Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise SuperPAC, as reported by the New York Times:
“[E]xpected to be led by Mr. Bush’s longtime strategist, Mike Murphy, along with his media firm, and Larry McCarthy, a Republican advertising strategist.”
“Liesl Hickey, recently the executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, will be a top adviser.”
“[C]ommunications efforts will be handled by Paul Lindsay, who recently worked for Crossroads GPS, a Republican super PAC. ” Crossroads GPS has close ties to Karl Rove.
Jeb Bush’s 2016 Presidential Campaign Committee:
“As of now, it’s expected to be led by both David Kochel, a veteran Iowa strategist, and Sally Bradshaw, Mr. Bush’s former chief-of-staff, ” as reported by the Times.
Bradshaw also served as one of the five members who chaired the much ballyhooed “RNC Autopsy Report” committee, as Breitbart News reported.
The personalized “data trust”:
“Andy Barkett, who served for a stint as the Republican National Committee’s first chief technology officer,” as the Times reported.
This campaign is likely to see the definition of a candidate’s team expand to include not only his formal committee, but also the SuperPAC he organized and funded before his announcement. This is an entirely legal way to go, provided there is no “coordination” between the SuperPAC and the campaign committee after the candidate has announced.
The other announced and soon-to-announce Republican candidates—Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Scott Walker and Rubio among them—have also established SuperPAC’s prior to announcing, but none appear to have the fundraising prowess of Bush’s SuperPAC.
The trick to doing this legally is to establish a clear joint strategy that delineates areas of responsibility prior to the formal launch of the candidate’s presidential campaign. As long as the two organizations do not communicate in a coordinated way after that, they are likely in the clear legally.
This may not hinder in any way a highly effective and integrated campaign run by two organizations that don’t communicate or coordinate, so long as the strategy developed prior to the separation is detailed and clear.
Throw in a third kind of organization tied to the Bush campaign—the “personalized data trust”—and the level of complexity and potential for regulatory uncertainty increases significantly.
Democratic groups have already claimed the Jeb Bush team’s planned use of these three organizations is a violation of election law. But the complaint recently filed by the American Democracy Legal Fund with the FEC looks like a long shot at best.
While such legal challenges to the Jeb Bush team approach may not go far, there are still a few dark clouds on the horizon for the former Florida governor.
The ease with which the Jeb Bush team has accomplished this has set off red flags among critics, who are wondering if the establishment staffed RNC Autopsy Report—dubbed the “Growth and Opportunity Project” by the RNC—was more of a strategic planning session for the players in the Jeb Bush 2016 campaign than an effort to shore up the RNC’s weak technology performance in 2012.
As Politico reported:
The Growth and Opportunity Project is going to be chaired by RNC Committee member Henry Barbour, longtime Jeb Bush adviser and political operative Sally Bradshaw, former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, Puerto Rico RNC committee member Zori Fonalledas, and South Carolina RNC member Glenn McCall.
Breitbart noted at the time that “the plan will be limited to these eight areas: (1) campaign mechanics and the ground game (2) fundraising (3) demographics (4) messaging (5) third party outside groups (6) campaign finance (7) the national primary process and (8) lessons learned from the Democrats.”
The eight elements of campaign strategy and tactics on which the plan focused sound like crucial elements of the kind of campaign plan the Jeb Bush team has adopted for 2016. And with the movement of many involved in that plan to the Jeb Bush team, personnel may now reflect that strategy.
The Republican victories in 2014 suggest that the project may have been responsible for some of that success, but it may also have served as a lengthy strategic planning session for key players involved in the 2016 Jeb Bush Presidential campaign.
The likely appointment of Bradshaw, the co-chair of the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” to a key leadership position at the Jeb Bush for President campaign committee may be an indication that the project may have been an early strategic planning exercise for the Jeb Bush team.
A veteran Florida political operative, Bradshaw has a long history of deep connections to the Bush family. In 1988, for instance, she worked on the 1988 George H.W. Bush campaign. Subsequently, she served as Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s Chief of Staff.
Several of the key players who worked on the project under Bradshaw’s direction remain at the RNC at the highest level. As Breitbart News reported at the time the project was announced:
A senior RNC staffer that Politico reported has been assigned to assist the five chairs is also a well connected political insider.
Sara Armstrong is currently the Deputy Chief of Staff at the RNC, where she reports directly to current Chief of Staff Jeff Larson, the former FLS Connect, LLC partner now in charge of the separate “online media autopsy.” Armstrong is the former Deputy Chief of Staff for First Lady Laura Bush.
In January, “RNC Chairman Reince Priebus announced that RNC Jeff Larson will serve as Senior Advisor and Sara Armstrong will serve as RNC Chief Operating Officer for the 2016 presidential election cycle.”
While the close connection between the Jeb Bush campaign team, the RNC, and the Republican establishment consultant class may be nothing for Bush’s opponents to worry about, many of them may be wondering if, behind-the-scenes, there may be a bit of Jeb Bush-friendly favoritism going on.