Watchdogs accuse 2016 hopefuls of breaking election law
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Good government groups are accusing four potential 2016 presidential candidates of violating election law.

The Campaign Legal Center along with Democracy 21 filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R), alleging that they are breaking the rules governing undeclared candidates.

The groups say that all four have failed to declare that they are already “testing the waters” for a run while raising money in amounts that would be forbidden for such potential candidates.

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“These 2016 presidential contenders must take the American people for fools — flying repeatedly to Iowa and New Hampshire to meet with party leaders and voters, hiring campaign staff, and raising millions of dollars from deep-pocketed mega donors, all the while denying that they are even ‘testing the waters’ of a presidential campaign,” said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center.

A candidate who is “testing the waters,” is required to pay for their activities out of funds subject to restrictions, such as a $2,700 limit from a single person. The complaints allege that all four have flouted these regulations by not formally declaring that they are “testing the waters.”

The groups also allege that the three Republicans have actually crossed over into being official candidates without telling the FEC, violating campaign finance laws.

In the complaints, the groups refer to news reports, public appearances and social media activity to make the argument that all four are violating election law.

The complaint against O’Malley alleges he is using his O’Say Can You See PAC to run a shadow campaign, noting that he has made hires in Iowa. It all says his website betrays his status as a candidate who is “testing the waters.”

“The website prominently features O’Malley and no other candidates for public office — the website is dedicated wholly to the promotion of Martin O’Malley and to raising funds for the PAC,” the complaint says.

“Our PAC has been fully compliant with the law,” said a representative for O’Malley’s committee. “This complaint has no merit and we are confident that — whatever the case may be with the other potential candidates — that is what the FEC will find.”

Advisers for the three Republicans did not respond to emails seeking comment.

The groups singled out Bush for his reportedly aggressive fundraising — noting a report that said he hoped to raise $100 million in the first quarter of 2015. Bush aides have denied that report.

The groups said that “complainants have reason to believe that Jeb Bush has decided to become a candidate, as indicated by his activities on behalf of Right to Rise Super PAC to raise ‘funds in excess of what could reasonably be expected to be used for exploratory activities’ and ‘designed to amass campaign funds that would be spent after he or she becomes a candidate.’ ”

In the complaint against Walker, it notes that he was the first possible 2016 candidate to open an office in the early-caucus state of Iowa and that he once referred to himself as a “candidate” in an interview.

The groups said that Santorum had met repeatedly with confidants and possible supporters — and noted that an adviser had referred to him as a candidate.

“Governor Walker has been talking to Americans about his reform-minded principles in Wisconsin through the issues based organization Our American Revival," said Our American Revival spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski in an email. "If there are any announcements about his future, he will do it in accordance with the law.”