CBS News: Five ways 2016 candidates are testing campaign finance rules
"We've seen this coming for a while, and we've known the FEC's concept of independence and coordination are very different from the average person's," Larry Noble, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center and former general counsel for the FEC, told CBS News. That said, Noble added he's surprised at "how quickly the presidential candidates have been willing to rip through the rules that were left."
"There's actually a legal definition of 'candidate,'" Noble pointed out. Campaign finance restrictions also apply to would-be candidates who have declared they are "testing the waters."
Noble's group has filed formal complaints against Bush, former Sen. Rick Santorum, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley for acting like candidates before actually declaring themselves in the race.
"This is the absurdity of the FEC," Noble said. "You have this fiction that as long as a candidate is not soliciting an actual contribution, they can be at an event where money is being solicited all around them."
Noble said that ceding control of most campaign activities to super PACs makes the campaign finance rules governing super PACs effectively meaningless. Keating, meanwhile, noted that a super PAC can only do so much for a campaign without direct coordination.
"What they're going to be very careful to do is... to make sure that there's no appearance the money is being given to influence her," Noble said. "Former presidents have gotten very large speaking fees," he continued, "but when you add that with being married to a presidential candidate, it becomes complicated."
Noble, however, said the 2016 candidates are "just laughing at the laws."
"What other laws can you get away with this, where people say, 'Hey, let's not follow it anymore?'" he asked. His organization's complaint against Bush, for instance, cites the Republican's extensive travel to key voting states, as well as an email solicitation from his own mother that says, "Jeb is our best chance of taking back the White House in 2016."
Ultimately, whether ruled illegal or not, "it's money that's going to influence them," Noble said. "The average person is going to look around [at the election] and say, 'What involvement do I have in this?"
Groups like the Campaign Legal Center will continue to watch for violations of the law and file complaints with the FEC or with the Justice Department.
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