Opposing the Use of Super PACs as “Slush Funds” for Presidential Candidates — CLC v. FEC (Dismissal Suit—Jeb Bush super PAC)


At a Glance

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and Democracy 21 have sued the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for its dismissal of their complaints alleging that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Right to Rise Super PAC violated 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.

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The Latest

Campaign Legal Center (CLC), joined by Democracy 21, has sued the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for its much-belated dismissal of two complaints CLC and Democracy 21 filed seven years ago in 2015 against former Florida Governor John Ellis “Jeb” Bush and the super PAC he established, Right to Rise Super PAC, resurrecting a matter the FEC clearly...

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About this Case

BCRA 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. 

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and Democracy 21 filed administrative complaints with the FEC on in March and May of 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.

The complaints further alleged that Bush had illegally delayed announcing his candidacy and registering his campaign committee — likely in attempt to sidestep the prohibition on federal candidates establishing or operating super PACs. The plaintiffs further alleged Bush had used unregulated money to “test the waters” of his possible run for President and to fund de facto campaign activities prior to his declaration of candidacy and had failed to file required disclosure reports detailing his spending in this period. 

Citing news reports, the FEC complaint detailed the involvement of Bush and his close advisors in “establishing” the super PAC, noting 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 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. 

More than seven years after plaintiffs filed their first administrative complaint, the FEC finally took action, but only to dismiss the complaints without any investigation or enforcement action — despite a recommendation from its Office of General Counsel finding reason to believe the alleged violations had occurred.  

What's At Stake?

At stake is whether the FEC will enforce an important provision of federal law that prohibits federal candidates from establishing or operating super PACs—and other entities that do not comply with federal contribution limits and source restrictions—to serve as “slush funds” that finance their “testing-the-water” and campaign activities.

Without vigorous enforcement, the financing of campaigns for federal office becomes a free-for-all, and wealthy donors, including corporations and unions, can sidestep federal contribution limits and disclosure requirements by making unlimited contributions to super PACs effectively operated by their favored federal candidates

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District Court
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