As the 2016 campaign unfolds, Hillary Rodham Clinton will benefit from one rapid-response team working out of a war room in her Brooklyn headquarters — and another one working out of a “super PAC” in Washington. Jeb Bush has hired a campaign manager, press aides and fund-raisers — yet insists he is not running for president, just exploring the possibility of maybe running. And Senator Marco Rubio’s chance of winning his party’s nomination may hinge on the support of an “independent” group financed by a billionaire who has bankrolled Mr. Rubio’s past campaigns, paid his salary teaching at a university and employed his wife. With striking speed, the 2016 contenders are exploiting loopholes and regulatory gray areas to transform the way presidential campaigns are organized and paid for. Their “campaigns” are in practice intricate constellations of political committees, super PACs and tax-exempt groups, engineered to avoid fund-raising restrictions imposed on candidates and their parties after the Watergate scandal.
Major costs of each candidate’s White House bid, from television advertising to opposition research to policy development, are now being shifted to legally independent organizations that can accept unlimited contributions from wealthy individuals, corporations and labor unions.
In this new world, campaigns are not campaigns. And candidates are not actually candidates. Though they sometimes forget it.
“I am running for president in 2016,” Mr. Bush said during a speech in Nevada last week, before quickly amending himself.
“If I run,” clarified Mr. Bush, whose political operation has already raised tens of millions of dollars — just in case.