Planning on running for president? Don’t say you’re testing the waters. Because once you form an exploratory committee, or outright announce you’re running, there are limits on how much money you can raise and how you can spend it. So presidential hopefuls act like candidates, but wait to make it official.
“The 2016 election is shaping up so far to be the biggest joke under the campaign-finance laws,” says Larry Noble, a former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission. “It’s an arms race. When some candidates do it, the other candidates think, unless I act the same way, I’m just going to get swamped.”
As long as you’re not an official candidate for president, you can raise millions of dollars for your super PAC — and coordinate with it closely.
“You can say, ‘Here are five people I want you to hire,'” says Bob Biersack, who worked at the FEC for 30 years. “You can say, ‘You should be advertising in these states and these are the messages you should use.’”
Once a candidate makes it official, that game plan goes out the window. They also have to publicly report how much money they’ve raised. Biersack and Noble are now advocates of campaign-finance reform.
Dan Backer is on the other side of the spectrum. He’s a conservative lawyer who brought a Supreme Court challenge to campaign finance regulations. He says the law is clear, and says reformers are just complaining that the spirit of the law isn’t being followed.
“The law doesn’t have a spirit,” he says. “It has ink and it has paper, and we need to do exactly what the law says it is to be compliant.”
Plus, even if the FEC worried that non-presidential candidates weren’t being compliant, and decided to look into whether anyone was breaking the law, any investigation would take years and wouldn’t be finished until after the 2016 presidential election.
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