White House hopefuls raking in record amounts of money in the 2016 U.S. presidential race are already being accused by watchdog groups of breaking campaign fundraising laws. But the U.S. Department of Justice is unlikely to prosecute possible violations and halt the funding free-for-all, say current and former department officials. With deadlock in the campaign finance regulator, the Federal Election Commission, watchdog groups are calling on the Justice Department to investigate contenders such as Republican Jeb Bush, who they say has conducted a charade of “non candidacy” to skirt federal election fundraising laws. Bush’s campaign said on Thursday he would announce his White House bid on June 15. Interviews with 11 current and former Justice Department officials indicate the department is unlikely to enforce rules before the November 2016 election, or even after. That means the election could unfold with record money – predictions are for overall campaign chests of more than $5 billion, double the cost of the 2012 election – but little regulation, they said.
The FEC, a six-person commission made up of three Democrats and three Republicans, has become paralyzed because, for the most part, partisan disputes have prevented the commissioners from opening new investigations.
“The fact that the FEC is neutered is not going to motivate the DOJ to go out on a limb and do a bunch of these cases,” said former federal prosecutor Jonathan Biran, who started his 17-year career at the Justice Department in the criminal division’s public integrity section, which traditionally prosecutes campaign finance crimes. Biran is now in private practice.
All of the people interviewed said the department would be reluctant to do anything during election season out of concern it would appear politically motivated.