Jeb Bush is under growing pressure to acknowledge what seems obvious to some voters and election lawyers: He is running for president. The lawyers say Mr. Bush, a former Florida governor, is stretching the limits of election law by crisscrossing the country, hiring a political team and raising tens of millions of dollars at fund-raisers, all without declaring — except once, by mistake — that he is a candidate. Some election experts say Mr. Bush passed the legal threshold to be considered a candidate months ago, even if he has not formally acknowledged it. Federal law makes anyone who raises or spends $5,000 in an effort to become president a candidate and thus subject to fund-raising, spending and disclosure rules. Greater latitude is allowed for those who, like Mr. Bush, say they are merely “testing the waters” for a possible run.
“When you look at the totality of the activities, could a reasonable person conclude anything other than that he is seeking the presidency?” asked Karl J. Sandstrom, a campaign finance lawyer who served on the Federal Election Commission. For a candidate to avoid restrictions by simply not declaring his candidacy, he said, “makes a mockery of the law.”
The issue is not one of mere semantics. If Mr. Bush did declare that he was running, it would bring a raft of election restrictions, including a limit of $2,700 on contributions and a ban on “coordinating” with a “super PAC” he has used to raise money. But much of campaign finance law is a subject of dispute, and defining who is a candidate is no exception.