For those who were wondering why presidential candidates have so much evasive hoo-ha associated with the announcement of their candidacies, CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash has a clear explanation:
The dirty little secret of the 2016 campaign is that would-be candidates like Bush and Walker in particular can use super PACs, campaign accounts that allow unlimited contributions, to raise millions of dollars as long as they aren’t official candidates. Until someone like Bush, Walker or New Jersey Gov. Christie formally declares for president, they are legally permitted to personally ask for money for a super PAC that will ultimately benefit their campaign. But once they formally acknowledge their candidacy, a legal wall goes up between the candidate and the super PAC that supports them.
This is the confusing new world of campaign finance in the era after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 removed most political spending limits on corporations and unions. Now, until they’re an official candidate, politicians can accept millions from a single donor, though Bush has set a self-imposed limit of $1 million for his super PAC.
The quiet goal for Bush, Walker and, to a lesser extent, Christie is to raise as much money as possible for as long as possible without the fundraising limits that come with being a declared presidential candidate.
And you thought they were just being silly politicians overestimating how much anyone cares about their formal announcements. But it gets even more complicated, as Bash explains:
It is a fundraising advantage that sitting senators do not have, which is why Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio announced their candidacies in April. Sen. Lindsey Graham will announce his intentions June 1.
Legally, a federal office holder — such as a senator — is always a candidate for federal office, and therefore already bound by federal fundraising limits in a presidential run: $5,400 per maximum per donor, for the primary and general election combined. Super PACs that support them can raise money to use on their behalf, but they cannot coordinate in the same way Bush, Christie and Walker are.
So in the ever important money race, Cruz, Paul and Rubio are going to be judged by how much they raise inside a traditional Federal Election Commission filing quarter. This current quarter lasts from April 1 to June 30th. That is a major reason most GOP senators running for the White House declared at the beginning of April — in order to squeeze as much fundraising time in as possible.
“It sure doesn’t hurt being a non-candidate candidate who leads his own super PAC until which time he hands it over to be run by his most intimate political supporters upon officially announcing a presidential run,” said Dave Levinthal of the Center for Public Integrity. “The unspoken message will still be crystal clear: Support me with money and support me with lots of it.”
“It’s basically the difference between a baseball manager sending in hand signals to his players and directly whispering the message into their ears,” Levinthal said. “The message more or less gets through all the same.”
Makes one envy the UK, with their ban on television advertising. Bash has more to say about the campaign announcement follies, but none of it will make you feel good about the way our election campaigns are financed or the evolution of U.S. democracy. Meanwhile, let’s not just dream about comprehensive campaign finance reform; let’s make it a top priority.