Several Potential 2016 Contenders Hit with FEC Complaint

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 is claiming that four possible 2016 presidential candidates—Republicans Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker, along with Democrat Martin O’Malley—are “violating campaign-finance laws by building campaign infrastructure without formally ‘testing the waters’ for a bid,” according to a Politico report.

The group’s senior counsel Paul Ryan said, “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.”

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, Jim Webb, Ben Carson, and Lindsey Graham have each already claimed to be “testing the waters.” The difference has ramifications for fundraising efforts.

The FEC distinguishes between non-candidates, candidates who are “testing the waters” and formally declared candidates. Candidates who are testing the waters can conduct polls, travel and make calls about a potential run. But if candidates raise more than $5,000 or formally refer to themselves as candidates, they’re required to register with the FEC and are subject to reporting and disclosure requirements.

The complaints, drawn from news accounts and public statements or filings, catalog the political activities of the four candidates and their allies. For example, Bush’s mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, signed a fundraising solicitation for the former Florida governor’s Right to Rise super PAC, and his team has forecast a $100 million fundraising goal.


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