In the last presidential contest, super PACs were an exotic add-on for most candidates. This time, they are the first priority. Already, operatives with close ties to eight likely White House contenders have launched political committees that can accept unlimited donations — before any of them has even declared their candidacy. The latest, a super PAC called America Leads that plans to support Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, was announced Thursday. The goal is simple: Potential candidates want to help their super PAC allies raise as much money as possible now, before their official campaigns start. That’s because once they announce their bids, federal rules require them to keep their distance. Official candidates can still appear at super PAC fundraisers, but they cannot ask donors to give more than $5,000. And they cannot share inside strategic information with those running the group.
“Once someone becomes a candidate, there will be some very important guardrails you have to abide by,” said Michael E. Toner, a Republican campaign finance attorney who served on the Federal Election Commission.
But for now, there are few guardrails for most of the 2016 hopefuls. That’s why former Florida governor Jeb Bush is headlining $100,000-a-head fundraisers for a super PAC already ballooning with tens of millions of dollars in donations. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s political committee is soliciting corporate money and six-figure checks. And on Monday in New York, former New York governor George Pataki was the guest of honor at a fundraiser for his super PAC at a private Manhattan club, where co-chairs were asked to contribute $250,000 each.