Ge­orge W. Bush brother’s cam­paign to use out­side groups to win in 2016


Ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the younger brother of for­mer U.S. Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, is pre­par­ing to em­bark on an ex­per­i­ment in U.S. pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics: del­e­gat­ing many of the key tasks of seek­ing the White House to a sep­a­rate po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion that can raise un­lim­ited amounts of cam­paign cash.

The strat­egy aims to take max­i­mum ad­van­tage of a new world of cam­paign fi­nance cre­ated by a pair of 2010 U.S. Supreme Court de­ci­sions that gave rise to or­ga­ni­za­tions known as su­per PACs, which have be­come huge play­ers in Amer­ica’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape.

The catch is that su­per PACs are legally barred from co­or­di­nat­ing their ac­tions with the can­di­dates or cam­paigns they sup­port. But the ar­chi­tects of Bush’s plan be­lieve the abil­ity of su­per PACs to raise un­lim­ited amounts of money legally out­weighs that dis­ad­van­tage.

Bush, the son and brother of two for­mer pres­i­dents, has not yet for­mally en­tered the race for the 2016 Repub­li­can Party nom­i­na­tion but an an­nounce­ment is ex­pected soon. The for­mer Florida gover­nor has ag­gres­sively laid out the ground­work for a cam­paign, emerg­ing as one of the top-tier can­di­dates in a crowded field of po­ten­tial Repub­li­can hope­fuls look­ing to chal­lenge likely Demo­cratic Party nom­i­nee Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton.

Su­per PACs have been cre­ated to sup­port other can­di­dates, in­clud­ing Clin­ton. But Bush’s plan would be the first to en­dow his su­per PAC, called Right to Rise, not just with ad­ver­tis­ing on his be­half, but with many of the du­ties typ­i­cally con­ducted by a cam­paign.

“Noth­ing like this has been done be­fore,” said David Keat­ing, pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter for Com­pet­i­tive Pol­i­tics, which op­poses lim­its on cam­paign fi­nance dona­tions. “It will take a high level of dis­ci­pline to do it.”

For Bush, the po­ten­tial benefits are enor­mous. Cam­paigns can raise only US$2,700 (NT$83,765) per donor for the pri­mary and US$2,700 for the gen­eral elec­tion. But su­per PACs are able to raise bound­less amounts of cash from in­di­vid­u­als, cor­po­ra­tions and groups such as la­bor unions.

The Risk for Bush

The risk for Bush is that once he en­ters the race, his su­per PAC will not have ac­cess to him and his se­nior strate­gists to make piv­otal de­ci­sions about how to spend the mas­sive amount of money it will take to win the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion and, if suc­cess­ful, the White House.

For ex­am­ple, if the cam­paign de­cided to change its fo­cus from one is­sue to an­other, it could not share that de­ci­sion with the su­per PAC.

Crit­ics be­lieve that co­or­di­na­tion can take place sur­rep­ti­tiously, and such il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity isn’t pun­ished by the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion com­prised of three Demo­cratic and three Repub­li­can mem­bers un­able to agree on most any­thing.

For­mer FEC com­mis­sioner Scott Thomas, a Demo­crat, doubts the Jus­tice Depart­ment would ever look at such a case be­cause the FEC has been so pre­cise in de­tail­ing what is al­lowed and what is not.

“You’d have to show a true smok­ing gun, show­ing the can­di­date con­trol­ling the cam­paign and the su­per PAC,” said Thomas, a lawyer now in pri­vate prac­tice in Wash­ing­ton.

One way Bush is al­ready ad­dress­ing the co­or­di­na­tion ban is by front­load­ing his ef­forts in­side Right to Rise. Be­cause he is not yet a can­di­date, he can now spend time rais­ing money for the su­per PAC and take part in strate­gic cam­paign plan­ning un­der its aus­pices. He has raised tens of mil­lions of U.S. dol­lars for Right to Rise.

One rea­son Bush’s aides are com­fort­able with the strat­egy is be­cause Mike Mur­phy, Bush’s long­time po­lit­i­cal con­fi­dant, would prob­a­bly run the su­per PAC once Bush en­ters the race.

Should Bush move ahead as his team in­tends, it is pos­si­ble that for the first time a su­per PAC cre­ated to sup­port a sin­gle can­di­date would spend more than the can­di­date’s cam­paign it­self — at least through the pri­maries. Some of Bush’s donors be­lieve that to be more than likely.

The ex­act de­sign of the strat­egy re­mains fluid. But at its cen­ter is the idea of plac­ing Right to Rise in charge of the brunt of the big­gest ex­pense of elect­ing Bush: tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing and di­rect mail.

Right to Rise could also break into new ar­eas for a can­di­date­spe­cific su­per PAC, such as data gath­er­ing, highly in­di­vid­u­al­ized on­line ad­ver­tis­ing and run­ning phone banks. Also on the ta­ble, tasking the su­per PAC with cru­cial cam­paign endgame strate­gies, such as the op­er­a­tion to get out the vote.

The cam­paign it­self would still han­dle those things that re­quire Bush’s di­rect in­volve­ment, such as can­di­date travel. It would still pay for ad­ver­tis­ing, con­duct polling and col­lect voter data.

Bush’s plans were de­scribed to The As­so­ci­ated Press by two Repub­li­cans and sev­eral Bush donors familiar with the plan, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause Bush has not an­nounced his can­di­dacy.

Bush spokes­woman Kristy Camp­bell said: “Any spec­u­la­tion on how a po­ten­tial cam­paign would be struc­tured, if he were to move for­ward, is pre­ma­ture at this time.”

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