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  1. Florida Politics

Jeb Bush gave campaign $388,000 of his own money for 'testing the waters' before he was official

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks during a meet-and-greet event in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks during a meet-and-greet event in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Published Jul. 16, 2015

As an unofficial presidential candidate who sounded and traveled like a candidate, Jeb Bush insisted he was following all campaign finance law. On Wednesday, federal reports showed he gave his campaign $388,000 for activity leading up to his formal entry into the race on June 15.

"Jeb 2016's first report affirms what we have publicly stated over the past few months that if Governor Bush engaged in any testing-the-waters activities that they would be paid for appropriately, and that if Governor Bush decided to run for office that any testing-the-waters expenses would be reported at the required time," spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said.

Bush had drawn widespread scrutiny and complaints lodged with the Federal Election Commission for acting like a candidate but insisting he was just deciding whether to run. The report shows he covered some travel and consulting expenses.

But it likely won't silence all his critics.

A bigger issue, watchdogs say, is that Bush exploited his noncandidate status to directly interact with a Super PAC started by his supporters. For months, Bush collected unlimited donations that resulted in an eye-popping $103 million for the Right to Rise PAC.

As an official candidate, Bush must maintain some distance with the committee, run by one of his longtime advisers.

He is limited to soliciting $2,700 per-person contributions for his campaign, which raised $11.4 million since his announcement in June.

Also Wednesday, Bush's campaign revealed the name of lobbyist "bundlers" who corral lots of $2,700 checks. Bush said he would voluntarily identify nonlobbyists doing the same work, but at a later time.

"Governor Bush is committed to transparency," Campbell said. "We plan to release a list of individuals bundling donations for the campaign for the first two quarters by the time we file our next FEC report."

A filing showed numerous lobbyists raising money for Bush, including longtime ally Al Cardenas of Squire Patton Boggs, who pulled in $18,900; Dirk Van Dongen of the National Association of Wholesalers, who raised $33,900; and William Killmer of the Mortgage Bankers Association, who pulled in $36,200.

The Center for Responsive Politics has reported that of President Barack Obama's top fundraisers in 2008, 80 percent received "key administration posts" as defined by the White House.

A spokesman for Marco Rubio, Bush's Florida rival, said, "We'll disclose what the law requires us to, but we don't discuss our strategy beyond that."