Reform groups Democracy 21 and Campaign Legal Center have filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission that accuse Republicans Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Rick Santorum, along with Democrat Martin O’Malley of violating federal campaign finance laws.
Democracy 21 described the violations primarily by Republican presidential hopefuls:
The four complaints filed today document in detail the political activities of each of these presidential aspirants: traveling extensively to early primary/caucus states, battleground states and fundraising hotspots; building campaign infrastructures; fundraising to pay for these activities and to bankroll a formal presidential campaign. These activities constitute “testing the waters” under federal law and must be paid for with funds raised under the federal candidate contribution limits and restrictions (no more than $2,700 per individual donor, no corporate/union funds). Bush, O’Malley, Santorum and Walker are all raising funds above the $2,700 candidate limit, providing reason to believe they are violating federal law.
The complaints further allege that Bush, Santorum and Walker have actually crossed the threshold to become “candidates” as defined in federal law, by referring to themselves publicly as candidates and/or by amassing campaign funds that will be spent after they formally declare their candidacies. Consequently, they are currently violating candidate registration and reporting requirements, contribution limits and restrictions, as well as federal “soft money” prohibitions.
The four individuals named in complaints today are not alone in the 2016 field in violating federal campaign finance laws. There are a number of additional White House hopefuls who appear to be in violation of the same campaign finance laws and more complaints will be forthcoming. So far only Ted Cruz has officially announced his candidacy. Hillary Clinton, Ben Carson, Lindsey Graham and Jim Webb have acknowledged that they are officially “testing the waters” and appear to be complying with federal law requirements; in the event they chose to run for president, we will examine their first campaign disclosure report to verify compliance with federal law “testing the waters” requirements.
Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer said, “Ask 100 ordinary Americans if these individuals are presidential candidates and 100 ordinary Americans will answer of course they are candidates. Just who do these candidates think they are kidding. The reason they are making these outlandish claims is so they can evade and circumvent the nation’s campaign finance laws, enacted to prevent corruption and protect the interests of the American people. These candidates are counting on the FEC failing to enforce the campaign finance laws. But the FEC should for once just do its job and not let presidential candidates mock the laws and the American people.”
The whole “testing the waters” period is a sham. Bush and Walker are definitely candidates. They are being covered by the media like they are presidential candidates. They are talking and campaigning like candidates, yet legally they have to pretend like they may not run.
Hillary Clinton can abide by the law because she has no serious competition for the Democratic nomination. What Walker, Bush, Santorum, and O’Malley are doing is definitely against the law, but due to understaffing, underfunding, and Citizens United, the FEC is constantly playing catch up in enforcing the nation’s campaign finance laws.
The Supreme Court has taken a broken campaign finance system and turned it into a corruption free for all. If the American people want to restore the power to the people, they must first demand that the FEC enforce the campaign finance laws that are on the books.
Mr. Easley is the founder/managing editor and Senior White House and Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association