Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio pushed boundaries of campaign finance with unlimited donations, secrecy
WASHINGTON — $235 million.
Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio burned through that much cash before joining the heap of failed 2016 presidential candidates, an astounding figure even in the big-money era.
But more important, the Floridians pushed new boundaries of campaign finance, setting examples likely to be copied by other candidates while leaving behind a string of complaints from watchdog groups contending laws were broken.
"They are pilgrims on the path to destroying the campaign finance system," said Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, an advocacy group that filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission, the IRS and the Justice Department.
For months, Bush insisted he was not a candidate while traveling the country to collect millions for a super PAC. The undeclared status allowed Bush to work closely with Right to Rise and take in unlimited donations instead of the $2,700 individual contribution limit his campaign faced.
By the time Bush announced, he had amassed most of his $100 million "shock and awe" war chest.
Rubio benefitted from a nonprofit that also collected huge donations — at least $16 million — and financed TV ads in early nominating states. The tax-exempt group provided donors with the cloak of anonymity, injecting untraceable "dark money" into the political discourse.
"He took the outside-money world from unlimited contributions to unlimited secret contributions and created a very dangerous precedent," Wertheimer said.
And both Bush and Rubio's candidacies contributed to a trend in which LLCs, or limited liability corporations, gave considerable sums to their respective super PACs while making it harder for the public to track the source. One cryptically named entity, IGX LLC, gave Rubio $500,000, resulting in an FEC complaint.
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