Today, Common Cause released a new report on the many ways presidential candidates bend and break campaign finance laws as they barnstorm early primary states, fundraise, evade contributions limits, and build their campaign teams while denying they are running for office. “‘Testing the Waters’ or Diving Right In?” is part of Common Cause’s 2020 Candidate Watch project through which the organization will watchdog candidate compliance with and government enforcement of campaign finance laws during the current election cycle.
The report, which should serve as a useful resource for reporters’ ongoing coverage of the 2020 presidential election, outlines how for decades candidates in presidential elections have pushed legal boundaries in the early stages of campaigns. But things reached a new level of absurdity in 2015, when Jeb Bush spent the first half of the year raising more than $100 million in illegal-to-candidates funds for a super PAC he set up, while denying that he was a candidate. He then announced his candidacy, the super PAC spent the funds supporting his candidacy, and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) let him get away with it.
The report concludes with a recommendation that the FEC repeal its regulation exempting presidential candidates from certain campaign finance laws while they are “testing the waters” of a campaign.