CLC v. FEC (Delay Suit—Jeb Bush super PAC)


At a Glance

CLC has sued the Federal Election Commission for its more than four-year delay in enforcing a federal prohibition on candidates establishing or operating super PACs as “slush funds” for their campaigns. The lawsuit is based on a FEC complaint CLC filed asserting that the 2016 campaign of then-presidential candidate John Elias “Jeb” Bush violated this law by setting up Right to Rise Super PAC, which subsequently spent over $86 million to support his election.

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About this Case

On March 13, 2020, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and Democracy 21 sued the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for its failure to enforce a provision of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) that prohibits federal candidates from “establishing, financing, maintaining or controlling” an entity that raises or spends unregulated funds outside of the federal contribution limits and source restrictions.

This law prevents the use of candidate-controlled super PACs as vehicles for the wholesale circumvention of the contribution limits enacted to prevent quid pro quo corruption and its appearance. When a candidate campaign illegally “outsources” its fundraising and other operations to a supposedly independent super PAC, it is often able to evade important transparency requirements as well, leaving voters in the dark about the nature of a candidate’s financial support.

Plaintiffs filed complaint with the FEC on May 27, 2015 alleging that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush had violated this BCRA provision by establishing, financing, maintaining and controlling Right to Rise Super PAC, which “act[ed] on his behalf” by raising and spending millions of dollars of unregulated money to promote his presidential campaign.

Citing news reports, the FEC complaint detailed the involvement of Bush and his close advisors in “establishing” the super PAC, noting, for example, that Bush and his associates reportedly recruited high-level staff for Right to Rise, such as installing Mike Murphy, one of Bush’s top advisers, at its helm.

The FEC administrative complaint also alleged Bush and his associates “financed” Right to Rise Super PAC, and that Bush himself, his advisors, and members of his family personally conducted fundraising for the super PAC.

Four and a half years after plaintiffs filed this administrative complaint, there is no indication that the FEC has taken any action.

This inaction has fostered a Wild West atmosphere in the financing of campaigns for federal office, allowing wealthy donors, including corporations and unions, to sidestep federal contribution limits and disclosure requirements by making unlimited contributions to super PACs established or operated by their favored federal candidates. Without enforcement of these BCRA provisions designed to prevent such circumvention of the contribution limits, the integrity of our system of representative democracy is undermined.

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