Breaking the Law to Be President?

August 28, 2015
3min read

The American press and Federal Election Commission were sitting back and watching Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, Scott Walker and many others break national campaign laws, regarding “testing the waters” activity. Namely, these presidential candidates were failing to abide by the federal rule limiting the expenses for “testing the waters” to $2,700 per person, in preparation for their presidential bids.

So why have these politicians been able to get away with walking a fine line while “testing the waters?”

The answer is simple: no one has been holding them accountable.

Paul Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, is one of the few people speaking out against potential misconduct. Ryan believes the 2016 hopefuls consider American voters “fools” since candidates unabashedly fly around to Iowa, New Hampshire and other important states raising millions of dollars from donors and appeasing potential voters.

According to the Federal Election Commission, any prospective candidate who engages in “testing the waters” activities for the purpose of deciding on a campaign must only use funds raised subject to the federal limit of $2,700 per person, per election.

And if its any indication, Charles and David Koch, the big-spending Republican donors, have given Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker their support. The only problem is that Walker has yet to formally announce his presidential run, and the Kochs have vowed to spend more than $900 million to push conservative candidates.

“We will support whoever the candidate is,” said David Koch, according to two people who attended a donors event. “But it should be Scott Walker.”

Times writer Nicholas Confessore details the Republican money trail:

Few donors have been courted as aggressively as the Kochs, whose network of political nonprofits, “super PACs” and like-minded donors plans to spend almost $900 million over the next two years advancing conservative candidates and policies.

Meanwhiletwo watchdog groups have filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission. Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center accused Maryland Democrat Martin O’Malley, Bush, Santorum and Walker of raising millions and campaigning for president without officially incorporating a campaign.

The Bush-specific complaint details his extensive fundraising, travel schedules and an email solicitation to donate to his super PAC. The committee is receiving million-dollar contributions and will be spending them in 2016 – but it would be illegal to use for actual campaigning.


Ann M. Ravel, chair of the Federal Election Commission, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post calling out reports that candidates have been breaking the law. Ravel says this type of pandering is illegal, but she fails to take against the candidates in question. Merely six days after her publication date, Santorum announced the start of his “testing the waters account.”

A simple denial of candidacy doesn’t allow potential candidates to ignore contribution limits. To do that, they must literally say they’re not even testing the waters.

“They can make it because the FEC is such a feckless enforcement agency,” Ryan tells the Guardian. “No one fears it. They know that even if the FEC does something, it will come along well after the election and it will amount to a slap on the wrist.

Ryan further explains the legal limits in Politico Magazine:

Any prospective presidential candidate who’s paying for testing-the-waters activities with funds raised outside the $2,700 per donor candidate limit is violating federal law. Isn’t this worth a mention in the stories about Bush’s self-imposed $1 million contribution limit for the quarter?

Patriot Voices, Santorum’s political action committee and 501(c)4 nonprofit advocacy group, have both raised a combined $10 million dollars in the last two years, CBS News reports.  Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, also has a similar committee.

“So the question,” Ryan concludes, “becomes: would you rather be a president, and two or three years after the fact be asked by the FEC – not told, asked – to pay some fairly trivial fine, or not be a president ever? That’s the calculation.”


Photo credit: liangjinjian

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