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  1. Florida Politics

Marco Rubio gets a Super PAC, fueling 2016 money race

Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio
Published Apr. 10, 2015

WASHINGTON — Supporters of Sen. Marco Rubio on Thursday launched a political action committee that can take in unlimited donations, joining a trend that will have a profound effect on the 2016 presidential race.

Conservative Solutions PAC is ostensibly independent from the Florida Republican, who is expected to announce his White House bid on Monday, but like others that have cropped up around declared and probable candidates, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, it has distinct ties.

The committee, known as a Super PAC, will be run by Warren Tompkins, who has been involved in Rubio's political work.

"Marco has the vision — few have laid out in as much detail where they'd like to lead this country — and we're going to spend the next two years ensuring that the resources are there and used to effectively share that vision with voters," Tompkins said.

Already one donor, Miami auto magnate Norman Braman, has said he is ready to pour as much as $10 million into the committee. Braman, a longtime Rubio booster, and any other donor is limited to $2,700 in direct contributions to Rubio, illustrating the Super PAC appeal.

The trend of candidate-specific Super PACs began in 2012, but in the coming election will be the norm. Bush has one. Ted Cruz has one. Rand Paul has one. Hillary Clinton has one.

Any candidate who does not get one risks being buried in attack ads.

Campaign finance watchdogs are aghast.

"This whole system is a joke," said Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center. "We're in a world where you can give a candidate, say, $2,000. But you can spend $1 million on a Super PAC and that's not corrupting? It's ridiculous on its face. That money will set what we talk about this election, even if it's not the most important thing."

She said less than 1 percent of Americans contribute $200 or more to a federal candidate.

Defenders of Super PACs say it represents free speech and a need to stay competitive. Rick Santorum, a 2012 Republican presidential contender likely to run again, was able to stretch out his campaign thanks to a Super PAC that backed him, complicating life for eventual nominee Mitt Romney, who had his own Super PAC.

Bush is plowing even more new ground.

Supporters set up his Right to Rise Super PAC and Bush has been traveling the country raising tens of millions for it even while he isn't an official candidate for president. Once he does declare, as expected, Bush will be more limited in his interaction with the committee.

The Campaign Legal Center recently filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission saying Bush and others that are engaged in campaignlike activity should be limited to contribution limits: $2,700 for an election. But the complaints are not likely to go far with the FEC deadlocked with three Democrats and three Republicans.

The pro-Rubio committee will be staffed by Tompkins, a South Carolina operative who has extensive experience in Republican politics. His firm, First Tuesday Strategies, has done work for Rubio. Jon Lerner, another veteran, will serve as media consultant and pollster. Jeff Sadosky, a former Republican Party of Florida spokesman and former communications director for Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, will direct media efforts. Jon Graham, who raised more than $100 million for clients in the past four election cycles, will lead fundraising, according to a release.

Rubio has used his Reclaim America PAC, which is limited to $5,000 donations, to build a political team that will run his campaign as well as grow a national fundraising network. He also has been raising money for his Senate campaign, money that could be transferred to a presidential run.

On Wednesday, the FEC sent Rubio a letter pointing out that 14 people had contributed more than the allowed amount to his Senate campaign. It's not an uncommon infraction, and Rubio had to pay an $8,000 fine during his 2010 election for accepting $210,000 in improper contributions. In January 2012, the campaign paid a $1,360 fine for failing to disclose a number of campaign contributions that fell under a 48-hour reporting rule.

Rubio is set to launch his campaign at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Freedom Tower in Miami, selected to highlight his Cuban-American heritage and American Dream message. His staff said there has been overwhelming demand for tickets and some people will not get in.

Program details, including who else besides Rubio will speak, have not been released.

Contact Alex Leary at aleary@tampabay.com. Follow @learyreports.