The Jeb Bush Super PAC? Not Really

502px-Jeb_Bush_by_Gage_SkidmoreThe news that Jeb Bush’s official presidential campaign account is running out of money may have been taken as bad news by some in the Republican Party.

They have been concerned about the surprising rise of outsider Donald Trump, while at the same time the expected GOP pack leader, Bush, has been unable to gain even half as much support in the national polls as compared to top dog Trump. And the concern of so-called “establishment” Republicans was likely only compounded when it was just disclosed that three key, seasoned Bush fundraising operatives have departed the campaign.

“Troubling Signs” is how Politico headlined the news of the recent Bush campaign personnel changes. There was some uncertainty over whether the fundraisers had resigned or were let go, but it was clear that Bush’s official campaign is having serious problems raising enough of its own money in the wake of the Trump juggernaut.

The Bush campaign is clearly going through a round of belt-tightening as Trump continues to rise in the polls. According to the New York Times, just before the three fundraisers made their departure, the Bush campaign had gone through an additional round of staff and salary reductions.

Bush supporters have minimized the apparent growing financial problems of Jeb’s presidential campaign. They say there is plenty of pro-Bush campaign money in the bank.

Politico observes that “Bush’s Super PAC,” which must be legally independent of the official campaign, has had “massive success raising money.” According to Breitbart, “Bush’s Super PAC,” the Right to Rise PAC, raised $103 million in the first six months of 2015, while Bush’s official campaign raised $11 million. The “Bush Super PAC” success in fundraising has even inspired catcalls from billionaire Trump, who has charged that Jeb is hardly independent of the many wealthy donors who have given to it, calling Jeb a “puppet” of its donors during a speech at the Iowa State Fair.

Yet as Jeb’s official campaign fundraising and spending appears to be in some degree of turmoil, a key point missing from news reports about the well-funded independent “Bush Super PAC” that Bush supporters are relying on, is the word “independent.”

Super PACs are a fairly recent phenomena, and an outgrowth of a string of federal court decisions that establish that the Federal Election Commission’s former restrictions on the amount of money and sources of campaign finances to candidate committees cannot be extended to so-called “independent expenditures.”

In return for maintaining independence from an official campaign of a candidate, a Super PAC is allowed to collect contributions in excess of the limits on contribution amounts imposed by the FEC on official campaigns, and can raise funds from sources that are otherwise prohibited by the FEC, such as corporations and unions. But the Super PAC must operate independently from the candidates it chooses to support.

The truth is, the “Right to Rise” PAC is not Jeb Bush’s PAC. Rather, it is an independent political committee of organizers and donors who, for the time being, are Jeb Bush supporters. All it takes to create a Super PAC like “Right to Rise” is to file a simple Statement of Organization, FEC Form 1, under a cover letter that promises the following to the FEC:

“This committee intends to make unlimited independent expenditures, and consistent with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decision in SpeechNow v. FEC, it therefore intends to raise funds in unlimited amounts. This committee will not use those funds to make contributions, whether direct, in-kind, or via coordinated communications, to federal candidates or committees.”

Thus, “Right to Rise” really isn’t Jeb Bush’s Super PAC. It is rather, an independent expenditure committee of operatives and donors that Trump sarcastically refers to as the “puppeteers,” who favor Bush right now. And since it is indeed legally independent of Jeb Bush, it is not legally committed to support him. An amount like $103 million is not a sum to be invested unwisely.

The “Right to Rise” PAC could decide to support or oppose any of the 17 candidates currently running for the GOP nomination, not just Bush. Should Bush continue to fail to gain traction in the polls, if his support further erodes, and as the primary process proceeds to what some political veterans are suggesting will be a “brokered convention,” this observer suggests that six months from now the “Right to Rise” PAC may not continue to be referred to as the “Bush Super PAC” in the press.

Originally published by The Blaze

James V. Lacy, a frequent guest of Fox Business News Channel’s “Varney & Company,” is author of “Taxifornia” which is available at Amazon.com

Follow the Money: New Bill Would Double CA Campaign Reporting Threshold

It could soon be harder to follow the money in California politics.

A state lawmaker wants to double the reporting threshold for political campaigns in California — allowing major donors to contribute more money and campaigns to spend more money before filing a disclosure report.

Under the Political Reform Act of 1974, as modified by later laws, candidate and independent expenditure committees must file disclosure reports after accepting $1,000 or more in a calendar year. Similarly, the state requires major donors to file campaign reports after contributing $10,000 or more in a calendar year.

Assemblyman Richard Gordon, D-Menlo Park, believes it’s time to increase those disclosure limits. Assembly Bill 594 would require candidate and independent expenditure committees to file a disclosure report after spending $2,000 or more in a calendar year. The reporting threshold for major donors would increase from $10,000 to $20,000 or more.

Political amateurs punished by campaign finance laws

Since his election to the state Assembly in 2010, Gordon has carved out a special niche in campaign finance legislation with bills to increase regulation and disclosure requirements. In 2012, Gordon authored Assembly Bill 481, which added new reporting requirements for independent expenditure and major donor committees. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Gordon’s bill,Assembly Bill 800, to give the Fair Political Practices Commission “the authority to conduct immediate audits when political campaigns are suspected of illegal activity and requires subcontractors and sub-vendors to disclose their donations.”

State-level political campaigns continue to be big budget blockbusters. According to the Sacramento Bee’s analysis of campaign finance reports, “candidates and independent groups collectively spent at least $150 million on Assembly and Senate contests statewide over the two-year election cycle.”

Why would a Democratic politician with a record of authoring campaign finance laws seemingly aid money in politics? Like his previous campaign finance proposals, Gordon’s current legislation has support from the state’s campaign watchdog, which argued that low campaign spending limits reduce political participation.

In a memo obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Erin Peth, executive director of the FPPC, said that the current campaign finance rules “can be a barrier for those individuals who wish to participate, but who will not be raising or spending large amounts of money in connection with an election.” Peth also argued, “Committee qualification thresholds have not been updated since at least 1987 and the proposed increases in the bill are intended to adjust the thresholds with the rate of inflation.”

According to the Inflation Calculator of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, when adjusted for the rising in the cost of living, $1,000 in 1987 is the equivalent of $2,066 today.

The rationale for higher limits is supported by pro-freedom campaign finance experts, who strongly defend political contributions as a protected form of political speech. Complex campaign finance laws force average citizens to seek legal counsel before engaging in political organizing.

“While serving on the FEC from 2000 to 2005, I kept a file of letters from political amateurs caught in the maw of campaign-finance laws,” Bradley Smith, a law professor and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, wrote in 2007. “Many of these people had no lawyers; none had the least intent to corrupt any officeholder; and all thought that they were fulfilling their civic duty by their involvement in campaigns.”

Top Two Primary could lead to more low-budget upsets

A higher campaign reporting threshold also increases the chances that those amateurs turn pro. Aided by California’s Top Two primary, which was passed by state voters in 2010, unknown candidates have been able to exceed political expectations, even achieve remarkable upsets, with low-budget campaigns. With higher reporting levels, these candidates will be able to operate in the dark for longer without tipping off incumbents.

dollar.CALast November, unknown community activist Patty Lopez failed to report any expenditures in the primary campaign, despite spending a few thousands dollars. That failure to report resulted in a $400 fine by the FPPC. In the general election, she went on to upset fellow Democrat, Asm. Raul Bocanegra.

“I made a few mistakes, and I paid the price for that,” Lopez said after the election. “Most of the people on my team, we’re not in the political arena.”

Lopez’s campaign finances weren’t managed by a campaign professional, just a family friend who was willing to serve as treasurer. That’s exactly the type of grassroots campaign political watchdogs hope to encourage with relaxed campaign finance regulations.

Her victory is proof that low-budget long-shots have the potential to win. Although it’s unlikely that Bocanegra would have been intimidated by a few thousands dollars of campaign spending, some political observers believe the lack of campaign finance disclosure contributed to the perception that she wasn’t a serious threat.

Opportunity for political professionals to exploit

Steve GlazerBy aiding political amateurs with higher reporting levels, state regulators also could empower creative political professionals to exploit the outcome of primary races. In multi-candidate primary elections, political professionals could spend just under $2,000 in online ads or automated calls backing a decoy candidate.

Such a scenario has already played out in this year’s special election for the 7th State Senate District. A Democrat-led political action committee, the Asian American Small Business PAC, spent $46,380 on behalf of Michaela Hertle, a Republican candidate who had dropped out of the race.

By backing the lone Republican candidate, the political action committee hoped to thwart moderate Democrat Steve Glazer, who had built his campaign strategy on appealing to Republicans and independent voters. Glazer ultimately advanced to the May run-off against fellow Democrat, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla. But Hertle had an impact, garnering 15 percent of the vote.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com