Environment & Energy Daily: Leading White House Contenders Already Violating Finance Laws -- Report


According to a new report published by the Campaign Legal Center on Friday, many of the nearly 20 aspiring presidential prospects are circumventing campaign finance law as they set up shop for likely bids.

In a 61-page report, CLC senior counsel Paul Ryan outlines how many wannabe presidential primary candidates are attempting an end-run around contribution limits as they set up their eventual campaigns.

Ryan writes that while most of the 2016 field avoids calling themselves candidates as of now -- or registering formal exploratory committees -- the actions of potential contenders like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) clearly show they are investigating whether to run for office.

Ryan, who described the efforts as a "tired charade" in an email to E&E Daily, also criticized the Federal Election Commission in his white paper, disparaging the agency for failing to enforce the law.

"If a prospective candidate is going to raise tens of millions of dollars, and build a national campaign operation, and travel repeatedly to Iowa and New Hampshire to meet with political leadership and voters, and even open an office in Iowa -- he should be forced by journalists and voters to publicly explain, with a straight face, how such activity doesn't constitute 'testing the waters' and why he isn't complying with the federal law contribution limits," Ryan told E&E Daily, referring to the $2,700 individual contribution limit and prohibitions on corporate and labor union funds federal candidates must adhere.

He added, "Voters aren't dumb. And the explanations from the most active prospective candidates aren't likely to pass the smell test."

In the report, Ryan outlines activities the FEC has identified as examples of exploratory work by a candidate, many of which would trigger the limits on contributions a politician could accept. ...

Ryan notes 527 groups, which are permitted to accept unlimited contributions, "have the primary purpose of influencing candidate elections."

Ryan also points to Bush, who announced in a December email that he would "actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States."...

"If all of this 'campaign operation' building, coast to coast travel and fundraising does not constitute 'testing the waters' -- i.e., activities for the purpose of determining whether Jeb Bush will become a candidate -- it is difficult to imagine what would constitute 'testing the waters,'" Ryan wrote. ...

"To the extent Clinton uses funds raised from individual donors in amounts exceeding the $2,700 candidate contribution limit, or any corporate/union funds, to pay for recruiting and/or hiring staff for 'testing the waters' or actual campaign activities, or to engage in any other 'testing the waters' activities to determine whether she should run for president, she is violating federal campaign finance law," Ryan wrote.

The only would-be candidates who appear to be following the law, Ryan noted, are former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb (D) and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R). ...

Ryan said he hoped his paper will correct many media reports that he said inaccurately describe campaign finance rules.

"My intention is to explain, with great detail and precision, that the law requires 'testing the waters' activities to be paid for with funds raised under the candidate limits -- so journalists can report accurately, and so voters can see through the tired charade so many prospective candidates and their lawyers are playing," Ryan said."

To read the full story in Environment & Energy Daily, click here.