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Why Jeb Bush's 'Running For President' Slip Matters

Jeb Bush’s language matters because it impacts compliance of campaign finance law and how much money he’s able to raise.
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Jeb Bush made a major slip up this week and it didn’t involve Iraq.

While talking to reporters at an event in Reno, Nevada Wednesday, Bush said, “I’m running for president in 2016.” Just seconds and a few words later, he injected the words “if I run” and earlier in his remarks he made it clear he has not yet made a decision. But it’s a major slip of the tongue after the former Florida governor has been so extremely cautious with his language about his intentions to run. He opens nearly every public event with the words “I'm excited about the possibility of running for president” or some close variation to that.

Bush’s language matters because it impacts compliance of campaign finance law and how much money he’s able to raise.

Paul S. Ryan, senior council with The Campaign Legal Center, a campaign finance watchdog group that has already filed challenges against four presidential hopefuls for alleged violations of campaign finance law, said Bush's latest flub, however, is just more evidence that Bush is already a candidate.

“This is not a slip of the tongue but a slip of the mask, revealing what we all know to be true,” Ryan said. “He decided a long time ago and he’s playing a charade by evading campaign finance law by denying he’s a candidate.”

Bush can become an official presidential candidate in a variety of ways: one is to file papers with the Federal Election Commission and another is to publicly say that he is running for president.

It is no secret that Bush plans on announcing his candidacy. Here are some clues: He’s hired staff in critical early nominating states. High profile political operatives have left their homes in Washington DC and elsewhere to move to his headquarters in Miami, he’s repeatedly visited early primary states and he’s raised a ton of money.

So why does it matter if he says that he’s running for president?

The moment Bush announces, he is confined to campaign finance laws, including a major one that limits the amount he can raise from an individual to $2,7000 for the primary. Currently, Bush has been raising tens of millions of dollars through his super PAC Right to Rise. That’s a lot of money at stake.

In addition, once Bush is an official candidate, he can no longer coordinate with his super PAC. Although Right to Rise will stay in business and continue to raise what’s likely to be an insane amount of money and engage in activities, such as running television ads and conducting polling, to support Bush’s candidacy, Bush will not be able to be in charge of the organization.

He’s putting off any announcement as long as possible to reap the financial benefits of how campaign finance law is currently interpreted.

Here’s a primer we wrote in March on how Bush is running his campaign. It’s modeled after Stephen Colbert’s 2012 presidential exploration.

Bush’s comments could be challenged, however. Challengers could file civil complaints with the stalemated Federal Election Commission or a more uncommon practice of filing criminal complaints with the Department of Justice.

Ryan said his organization probably won’t file a complaint with an FEC because it has one pending against Bush, alleging that Bush has already been acting like a presidential candidate by raising money in excess of what he needs to “test the waters” of a presidential campaign and because he’s raising money that will be spent after he becomes a candidate.