FEC Complaints Filed Against Bush, Walker, Santorum and O'Malley

The Campaign Legal Center has filed formal complaints with the Federal Election Commission.

CPAC 2015

Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, speaks during an interview at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Har

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomber

Four prospective presidential candidates have been accused of jumping the gun. 

The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 have filed formal complaints with the Federal Election Commission against Republicans Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Rick Santorum, and Democrat Martin O’Malley, accusing the presumptive presidential candidates of "actively organizing and running early presidential bids without abiding by federal rules related to fundraising limits and disclosure," Open Secrets reports. 

F.E.C. rules consider someone a candidate when they've raised or received more than $5,000, unless the would-be candidate says he or she is "testing the waters," to judge whether a presidential campaign is possible. Once a candidate is in the "testing the waters" phase, campaign finance laws restrict the amount and kinds of donations candidates can use. The complaint alleges that while all four presidential hopefuls have denied "testing" the waters, they have engaged in activities like hiring staff and setting up political operations in early primary states, and should therefore, the complaint argues, be subject to campaign finance restrictions. The complaint also points to travel and staffing in early caucus and primary states. 

“The important legal issue is that, to the extent that they’re actually engaging in ‘testing the waters’ activities, that they pay for those activities with funds raised under the candidate limits,” Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, said in an interview.

The complaint further argues that Bush, Walker, and Santorum have made the jump from "testing the waters" to being "candidates," at which point they would need to register and begin disclosing their donations. By failing to take those steps, the complaint argues the three have "violated the candidate registration and reporting requirements, contribution limits and restrictions, and 'soft money' prohibitions of [the Federal Election Campaign Act]." 

One sign that an individual has jumped to the "candidate" phase is when he or she sets out to raise "funds in excess of what could reasonably be expected to be used for exploratory activities," the complaint states. The complaint also cites the news, broken by Bloomberg, that Bush plans to raise $100 million. 

The complaint against Walker also points to his organization, Our American Revival, which opened an office in Iowa in February. "Now why would the governor of Wisconsin open an office Iowa, one of the early caucus/primary states?" Ryan said. "It’s obvious to everyone paying attention—he’s starting a campaign for president... yet he and his spokespeople are denying that he’s even testing the waters of a presidential campaign." Walker’s organization did not immediately return a request for comment. 

In statements to The New York Times, spokeswomen for Bush and O'Malley denied that the complaint had any merit, and said that their respective candidates were complying fully with the law. "This complaint has no merit and we are confident that—whatever the case may be with the other potential candidates—that is what the F.E.C. will find," Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for O'Malley, told The Times

 

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