Why Hasn't Jeb Bush Declared His Candidacy Yet? It Might Be A Pretty Strategic Decision

This week, the Republican 2016 field doubled as Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson joined already announced Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio as official candidates for the Republican nomination for president. But former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has yet to signal an announcement date, despite holding near daily fundraisers and press events. So, why hasn't Bush officially announced yet? It might have something to do with the fact that after Bush officially enters the race, he'll no longer be able to help outside groups raise unlimited amounts of money on his behalf.

Bush looked to be out earliest ahead of the pack when, in January, he launched Right To Rise, a super PAC tasked with soliciting donations for his 2016 run. Shortly thereafter, Bush gave his “tacit endorsement” of Right to Rise Policy Solutions, a nonprofit organization started by a former Bush staffer, seemingly to support a Bush candidacy. As a not-for-profit, Right to Rise Policy Solutions is not subject to campaign finance laws that cap donations from individuals and require donations be publicly disclosed. The Bush-aligned nonprofit shares its name with Bush’s super PAC — a practice in common with fellow Floridian and actual declared candidate Marco Rubio, whose nonprofit, Conservative Solutions Project Inc., shares its name and founder with Rubio's official super PAC as well.

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And though Bush aides have denied reports of a first quarter fundraising goal of $100 million, Bush recently told 350 of his top donors in Florida that his super PAC, Right to Rise, has raised more money in its first 100 days than “any other Republican operation in modern history,” according to The Washington Post. Once Bush declares his candidacy, he will no longer be able to make such pronouncements, as he will be barred from legally coordinating with his super PAC. After he becomes an official candidate, Bush can only raise $2,700 from each donor in "hard money" for his official campaign committee, and such donations will be subject to public disclosure per campaign finance laws.

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Bush’s super PAC, however, can continue to rake in record sums of money not subject to public scrutiny, and as long as Bush is not an official candidate, he can continue hosting fundraisers on behalf of his affiliated groups without breaking any campaign finance laws. And though these groups are staffed by former Bush advisers who might be clued into a Bush 2016 strategy, because Bush has not officially hired campaign staff or made any other steps towards officially announcing, his actions have not drawn the attention of federal elections officials. For instance, when Hillary Clinton leased her office space in Brooklyn, New York, she triggered an automatic 15-day countdown to an official announcement or risked running afoul of Federal Elections Commission (FEC) rules. Bush has made no such steps.

But just because the FEC isn’t after Bush doesn’t mean his actions haven’t drawn the ire of campaign finance reformers. On Monday, the American Democracy Legal Fund filed a complaint with the FEC requesting an investigation into Bush for violating “the Campaign Act of 1971 by using his leadership PAC, Right to Rise PAC, Inc., to raise money for his exploratory efforts in excess of the federal contributions limits."

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If recent events are any indication, this latest complaint will likely go nowhere. Back in March, two watchdog groups filed complaints with the FEC against Bush along with former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, as well as former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, claiming "that they are not exploring presidential bids in order to raise unlimited amounts of money." The FEC vote resulted in a stalled 3-3 partisan split.

For his part, Bush recently assured his top donors, “I don't think you need to spend a billion dollars to be elected president of the United States in 2016.”

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