Friends of Jeb Bush, the first Republican heavyweight to announce that he's "exploring" a presidential bid in 2016, have put a price tag on friendship. And it is menacing.
On Friday, Bloomberg Politics reported that Bush's allies are setting a formidable goal to raise $100 million in the first three months of this year. The thinking goes that if Bush's team reaches such a high benchmark before the Republican primary has even begun, it could scare off potential primary opponents.
It goes to show how supersized political donations have become since the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. It also provides a useful lesson in the wonky campaign finance rules that potential candidates must navigate, and how they can be manipulated for maximum gain.
Because of the way that Bush is set up, big donors will be able to get around contribution limits by triple dipping: funneling money into a leadership PAC, a super PAC, and a presumptive regular campaign.
On Tuesday, Bush announced his own leadership PAC—the Right to Rise PAC—but he has not yet formed an official exploratory committee for a presidential run. That means that technically, in the eyes of the Federal Election Commission, he is still not a presidential candidate.
Under federal election law, a candidate's leadership PAC cannot spend money on services that directly affect the candidate's campaign. What leadership PACs can spend money on is dispatching the candidate to ostensibly campaign for other people.
Leadership PACs can also allow candidates to operate in "stealth mode," according to the Center for Responsive Politics's Sheila Krumholz: candidates can use the money to fly around the country to meet with potential donors and build name recognition before announcing an official bid.
In this way, Bush is in a uniquely beneficial fundraising situation. Because he does not currently hold office and is technically not yet a candidate for office, he can legally coordinate with his super PAC. It's unclear where, exactly, that proposed $100 million figure is supposed to wind up, but it's a sound bet that a lot of it will include super PAC donations.
Bush's spokeswoman, Kristy Campbell, told Bloomberg Politics that the $100 million figure is "not accurate," but she didn't clarify how what they're planning is different.
It's unclear how much of a chilling effect the goal would have on Bush's potential primary opponents. While someone like Ohio Gov. John Kasich may be intimidated by the early show of strength, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is less likely to be scared off, as Bloomberg Politics notes:
Christie is a proven fundraiser, raising a record $106 million in his two years as head of the Republican Governors Association, but he has complications as a sitting governor. The Securities and Exchange Commission rules prohibit some of Wall Street's biggest donors from giving money to governors.
Still, it never hurts to be friends with multibillionaires.
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