Jeb Bush's $114 million war chest comes with one catch

GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush's recent haul shattered previous political fundraising records and is likely double that of his closest Republican opponent.

John Locher/AP
Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush waits in a hallway after a campaign event in Henderson, Nev., June 27. Bush raised $11.4 million in 16 days after formally launching his campaign for president, his campaign said Thursday. The total is a fraction of what he has pulled in overall to support his White House ambitions.

GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush has broken a political fundraising record with a massive campaign war chest in the first six months of the year, leading to the chronic questions about the influence of big money in politics.  

Mr. Bush and company reported Thursday that they have raised more than $114 million in the past 6 months, of which they have $98 million still in the coffers. 

The haul is even more staggering when compared with those of his rivals vying for the Oval Office. Reports suggest that the former Florida governor has at least twice as much as his next closest Republican competitor and more than the outside group backing President Obama in 2012 raised in two years.

Broken is polite word for what Bush did to the record, a more apt term would be shattered.

But there’s a catch. More than 90 percent of the cash, around $103 million came through his Los Angeles-based super PAC, Right to Rise, which by law he has no direct control over.

Direct fundraising by the Bush campaign is limited to $2,700 donations during the primary season and an additional $2,700 in the general election. Money raised through these channels amounts to $11.4 million thus far.

This appears to be a prelude to what might be called an “autopilot campaign,” a relatively untested strategy in modern politics, reported the Monitor’s Mark Trumbull, after Bush set an earlier fundraising record back in April.

“We are in a new era,” Viveca Novak, spokeswoman for the Center for Responsive Politics told the Monitor. “There were super PACs in 2012, but this is the first presidential election where people have openly talked about farming out elements of their campaigns to outside groups.”

That means that the heavy lifting of the campaign, such as buying advertisements, conducting polling, and even some elements of voter outreach will be funded through Right to Rise, and smaller things, like staff salaries and travel will be paid for by Bush’s campaign.

Right to Rise has already started its advertising blitz, with $47,000 spent so far on digital media. The organization has also looked into booking ad time on television in key early primary states.

Although it is illegal for Bush’s campaign to direct Right to Rise and the two organizations are limited in their methods of communication, the candidate can make public statements “as a private citizen” which could influence the actions of the super PAC – a legal loophole lampooned by comedians Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart during Mr. Colbert's parody campaign in 2012.

Underlining the tie between the GOP presidential hopeful and Right to Rise, the super PAC is helmed by longtime Republican strategist and ad consultant for politicians including Bush.

The prominence of super PACs – which face no contribution caps and have led to a rise of huge fundraising hauls for both parties – was spurred by the US Supreme Court in the 2008 Citizens United v. FEC ruling which supported the idea that political speech by independent people or groups cannot be restricted.

Bush’s fundraising efforts from before he announced as a candidate has already led to a few complaints with the Federal Election Committee (FEC) which said that he has crossed the threshold of candidacy before his official announcement on June 15, and therefore should have been subject to federal election laws.

The 2016 campaign is on course to be the most expensive the country has yet seen, with billionaire donors lining up behind candidates from both parties.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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