Watchdog groups calling for DOJ to investigate Jeb Bush for campaign finance violations

Yesterday, CBS News reported that two campaign finance watchdog groups, Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, have officially asked the Department of Justice to investigate whether presidential candidate Jeb Bush is illegally coordinating with Right to Rise, the super PAC supporting his candidacy.

As the groups state in a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Bush and Right to Rise “are engaged in a scheme to allow unlimited contributions to be spent directly on behalf of the Bush campaign and thereby violate the candidate contribution limits enacted to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption.”

The groups also cite the persistent 3-3 deadlock in the Federal Elections Commission as their reason for appealing to the Department of Justice instead, noting that Lynch has the power and the authority to appoint an independent prosecutor in order to investigate and enforce campaign finance violations.

Under FEC rules, any potential candidate who “acts” like a candidate can technically be forced to file paperwork declaring their candidacy. “Acting” like a candidate can range from running advertisements to raising more money than could reasonably be used to test the waters (a figure the FEC pegs at $5,000) to saying that you’re running.

Jeb Bush, via Right to Rise, has done all of these things and more. Not only has Right to Rise produced and run advertisements, those advertisements have featured Bush, which candidates are barred from doing. He has raised what he himself has called a record amount of money for a Republican primary candidate. He has spent inordinate amounts of time in early primary states and at fundraisers for Right to Rise. He has even said that he’s running for president. As the watchdogs’ letter points out, “The fact of his candidacy is so apparent, and so overt, that Bush himself has found it hard to maintain what is really the ongoing charade of his purported non-candidacy,” citing Bush’s accidental announcement in Nevada earlier this month:

But while practically every likely candidate has raised well over $5,000 through their associated super PACs, and a few others have even accidentally let the magic words — “I’m running for president” — slip, that isn’t why Jeb Bush is being singled out by Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center for DOJ scrutiny. Instead, Jeb is drawing the attention of watchdog groups due to his brazen disregard for what few restrictions there are for candidates to coordinate with independent entities. As the letter to the DOJ articulates, Right to Rise is clearly being operated by Bush, and can reasonably be construed to be Jeb’s actual campaign. This should make the entity subject to the campaign contribution limits, donor restrictions and disclosure rules that normal campaigns are forced to abide by — limits, restrictions and rules that the super PAC has no intention of following.

As the letter states:

The Right to Rise Super PAC is an entity that Bush, both directly and indirectly through his agents, has “established” and that is “acting on his behalf” for the purpose of raising and spending soft money to promote his presidential campaign. Similarly, Bush, both directly and indirectly through his agents, has “financed,” “maintained” and “controlled” the Right to Rise Super PAC, which is “acting on his behalf” for the purpose of promoting Bush’s presidential campaign. Accordingly, there is reason to believe that Bush is violating section 30125(e) by raising soft money for and through such an entity, and that the Right to Rise Super PAC is violating section 30125(e) by raising and spending soft money on behalf of Bush.

What’s more, Right to Rise is expected to take on functions typically reserved for political campaigns, such as data collection, direct mail and even ground-level organizing. And while he is still directly involved with Right to Rise’s operations, even when he officially declares his candidacy he can still be said to be “controlling” the organization’s operations. As the man most likely to assume control of Right to Rise once Bush declares, Mike Murphy, is a close Bush confidant and adviser who is already playing a crucial role in the day-to-day operations of Jeb’s de-facto campaign, one cannot reasonably say that the the super PAC will be completely independent from whatever official campaign organization emerges.

The letter further outlines the likely members of Right to Rise’s senior staff, showing how closely each one of them is tied to Jeb Bush’s current political team.

Finally, the document outlines how Bush is delaying his campaign announcement for the sole purpose of fundraising for Right to Rise, which is as clear-cut a case of coordination between a candidate and a super PAC as one can find. This is especially the case given that, for all intents and purposes, Jeb bush is a candidate who directly controls a super PAC.

A Department of Justice investigation into the Bush campaign is unlikely. Loretta Lynch is a new Attorney General in a Democratic administration; she will almost certainly avoid going after a high-profile Republican presidential candidate for fear of being cast as a political agent. But just because there is no analogous Democratic case of Jeb Bush’s flagrant violations of what few campaign finance rules we have doesn’t mean that those violations should be ignored.

As with voting rights, when the rules of the game become a partisan issue, the whole system suffers.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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12 Responses to “Watchdog groups calling for DOJ to investigate Jeb Bush for campaign finance violations”

  1. LanceThruster says:

    No one spotlighted to idiocy of the Super-Pacs better than Stephen Colbert.

  2. newbroom says:

    I’ve got water pumps for sale. Only $28 million dollars each. You don’t have the money? It’s ok, we can arrange a loan for you with the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

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  4. DoverBill says:

    Yes Virginia, there are two Americas.

  5. Calvinius says:

    There’s also the slaves (and I mean that quite literally) in Qatar who have been screwed over by FIFA.

  6. ComradeRutherford says:

    This is a member of the Bush family, the Rule of Law does not apply to them.

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  8. 2karmanot says:

    One toe in the Bush waters Jon and you’ll be wept away by a tsunami of corruption and graft. Jebya is the perfect amalgam of the family: 1) he’s running for President so he can reduce the power of the Feds while lining the pockets of the Caryle Group, Halliburton and other mega corporate interests. He’s about as patriotic as his his treasonous grandpappy Prescott Bush, 2.) He’s a scam master like his brother Neil, who destroyed the lives of thousands in the Savings and Loan Scandal, walking away with a million dollars and no consequences, 3) He’s increasingly appearing to be as doltish and out-of-tune as his brother, Bush la Petite. The sainted father Bush is nothing less than a war criminal, who has never paid a single moments worry over his crimes. It runs in the family. They operate above the law and for generations expect to pay no price for their crimes. While scions of old family New England aristocrats, they are no less corrupt, vile and criminally inclined as the Landrieu cartel in Louisiana. Yet to catch up to Jebya is his nefarious dealings with Cuban terrorists in Florida. There is a sewer’s worth of gunk that is Jebb Bush about to gush forth for the expiring minds that want to know.

  9. BeccaM says:

    My guess is Jeb and his lawyers looked at the current “anything goes” climate vis a vis the Supreme Court and campaign spending, and figure if there are anything like charges brought, they’ll just file a case and likely win. Or, if not, it won’t matter because by time anything is adjudicated, it’ll be 2017-18 and the election years over.

  10. Bill_Perdue says:

    By the time any politician from the Democrats or the Republicans reaches office they’re gangsters and criminals. they are political prostitutes owned by the rich. It would be nice to investigate them all but it won’t happen.

    Bill Clinton declined to investigate Bush1 for war crimes because of the mass murder in the Kill Box.

    Bush2 declined to investigate Bill Clinton for the mass murder of half a million Iraqi children.

    Obama declined to investigate Bush2 for the murder of over a million Iraqis.

    Hillary Clinton or her Republican opponent will not investigate Obama for war crimes against the peoples of Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

  11. nicho says:

    And it’s interesting that the one DOJ has gone after has absolutely no effect on my life whatsoever. FIFA is a bunch of billionaires screwing each other over. That’s all.

  12. Buford2k11 says:

    It is good that Loretta has gone after the corruption of FIFA…BUT, hows ’bout going after the corruption in our own country….Wall Street. Koch Brothers. Adelson, oh wait…that one is still foreign…The Fox propaganda organization…I suppose there is more corruption and the appearance of corruption than an underfunded DOJ can handle…

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