A group called the Campaign Legal Center has sent me a link to a report that concludes most prospective 2016 presidential candidates are testing the waters for a run with money raised outside the official legal procedure for “testing the waters” activities.
To which my immediate reaction is: Duh.
Mike Huckabee, already flatly identified as a presidential candidate in paid aide Alice Stewart’s dispatches, has long used a PAC and other means to build his political brand and visit important primary states to deliver messages that build his presidential candidacy. Has he done so through a campaign committee, with limits on contributions? Not so far.
But he is by no means alone.
Federal law requires an individual who is “testing the waters” of a federal candidacy to pay for those activities with funds raised in compliance with the federal candidate contribution restrictions—no individual contributions above $2,700, no corporate or labor union funds. “Testing the waters” means activity “undertaken to determine whether the individual should become a candidate,” including, for example, travel to see if there is sufficient support for one’s candidacy. Prospective presidential candidates deny that they are “testing the waters” in order to evade the candidate contribution limits.
The “how” part is more difficult to explain. Among the long list of nearly 20 prospective 2016 presidential candidates, only Senator Lindsey Graham and former Senator Jim Webb appear to be complying with the federal campaign finance law requirement that “testing the waters” activities be paid for with candidate-permissible funds.
Many others are raising and spending funds outside the candidate contribution limits, through super PACs, 527 organizations, multicandidate PACs and 501(c)(4) groups, to engage in activities that certainly appear to be for the purpose of determining whether the individual should become a candidate.
The report notes that Huckabee has used his PAC and a 501c4 organization, America Takes Action, to hire people and build his brand, though he has said he won’t form a presidential exploratory committee until April. Contributions to the 501c4 aren’t reported. If they included corporate money or contributions in excess of $2,700 for spending on candidacy-building activities (everything Huckabee does, in other words), law would disallow it.
Hillary Clinton is noted for having super PACs promoting her candidacy, though they are independent of her, and for travel paid by the Clinton Foundation. The Foundation said it has paid for no politically connected travel.
As with Huckabee, and the other candidates, it is hard to know where politics end and other purposes begin.
See jump for recent note from Alice Stewart if you doubt Huckabee is a presidential candidate.