FEC Complaints Against Presidential Hopefuls Show Widespread Violations, Total Disregard for Campaign Finance Law: They Must Take the American People for Fools


Today, on April Fools’ Eve, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against Jeb Bush, Martin O’Malley, Rick Santorum and Scott Walker claiming reason to believe they are violating federal campaign finance laws.

“These 2016 presidential contenders must take the American people for fools—flying repeatedly to Iowa and New Hampshire to meet with party leaders and voters, hiring campaign staff, and raising millions of dollars from deep-pocketed mega donors, all the while denying that they are even ‘testing the waters’ of a presidential campaign,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel.  “But federal campaign finance law is no joke and the candidate contribution limits kick in as soon as a person begins raising and spending money to determine whether they’re going to run for office. Bush, O’Malley, Santorum and Walker appear to be violating federal law.”

The four complaints filed today document in detail the political activities of each of these presidential aspirants: traveling extensively to early primary/caucus states, battleground states and fundraising hotspots; building campaign infrastructures; fundraising to pay for these activities and to bankroll a formal presidential campaign. These activities constitute “testing the waters” under federal law and must be paid for with funds raised under the federal candidate contribution limits and restrictions (no more than $2,700 per individual donor, no corporate/union funds). Bush, O’Malley, Santorum and Walker are all raising funds above the $2,700 candidate limit, providing reason to believe they are violating federal law.

The complaints further allege that Bush, Santorum and Walker have actually crossed the threshold to become “candidates” as defined in federal law, by referring to themselves publicly as candidates and/or by amassing campaign funds that will be spent after they formally declare their candidacies. Consequently, they are currently violating candidate registration and reporting requirements, contribution limits and restrictions, as well as federal “soft money” prohibitions.

“Publicly denying that they are candidates does not exempt these presidential hopefuls from federal election laws passed by Congress to keep the White House off the auction block,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel.  “Jeb Bush is reportedly aiming to raise more than $50 million for his super PAC. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has opened an office in Iowa and is raising millions for a political group he created in January. Rick Santorum’s own aide is referring to him as a ‘candidate.’ These individuals are ‘candidates’ under the law.”

The four individuals named in complaints today are not alone in the 2016 field in violating federal campaign finance laws. There are a number of additional White House hopefuls who appear to be in violation of the same campaign finance laws and more complaints will be forthcoming.  So far only Ted Cruz has officially announced his candidacy.  Hillary Clinton, Ben Carson, Lindsey Graham and Jim Webb have acknowledged that they are officially “testing the waters” and appear to be complying with federal law requirements; in the event they chose to run for president, we will examine their first campaign disclosure report to verify compliance with federal law “testing the waters” requirements.

To read the complaint against Jeb Bush, click here.

To read the complaint against Martin O’Malley, click here.

To read the complaint against Rick Santorum, click here.

To read the complaint against Scott Walker, click here.