Buying of the President

Published — January 14, 2015 Updated — October 6, 2015 at 2:41 pm ET

There are 153 presidential candidates running

Amid the ‘undecided’ Romneys and Bushes, gaggle of unknowns has formally filed paperwork

Introduction

Hillary Clinton. Jeb Bush. Mitt Romney. Rand Paul. Chris Christie.

None of them — officially — is yet running for president. Nor are any other notable White House prospects, such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. and Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis.

But, according to Federal Election Commission records, there are no fewer than 153 people who’ve filed paperwork to become bona fide U.S. presidential candidates, even if, together, they amount to little more than a gaggle of gadflies, eccentrics and veritable unknowns.

Voters right now can support Democrat “President Emperor Caesar” of Cape Coral, Fla., Republican “Ole’ Savior” of Minneapolis and “President Princess Khadijah M. Jacob-Fambro” of San Francisco whose party affiliation is listed as “The Revolutionary Party.”

Someone named Cherunda L. Fox of Detroit went to the trouble of forming (via a handwritten document) a presidential exploratory committee.

It’s quaint, really.

If the nascent 2016 presidential campaign has proven anything to date, it’s this: Potential candidates with any semblance of support have, in a post-Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission political environment, discarded the traditional playbook for early fundraising and organizing in favor of unofficial election vehicles, including those not shackled by pesky fundraising limits.

Take Clinton, the odds-on Democratic nominee, who’s benefited from two years worth of support from Ready for Hillary, a “hybrid PAC.”

Ready for Hillary operates at once as a super PAC — a committee allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to support a candidate, so long as it doesn’t directly coordinate with the candidate — and as a traditional political action committee, which may raise limited amounts of money that it can donate to candidates.

Ready for Hillary, run by longtime Clinton staffers and surrogates, had spent more than $8 million during 2014 through late November, according to its latest campaign finance disclosure.

At that point, it had more than $875,000 cash on hand, plus a $1 million loan from a Washington, D.C., bank it had taken out in October to fuel its pro-Clinton operations.

More recently, Bush, the former Florida governor, created both a “leadership PAC,” which may raise limited amounts of money for certain political uses. Donors may give up to $5,000 per calendar year to leadership PACs without the money counting toward federal contribution limits that would be imposed on presidential candidate committees and exploratory committees.

Bush is also the impetus for a separate super PAC that shares the same name — “Right to Rise” — as his leadership PAC.

No, no, you say: Bush can’t coordinate with a super PAC! As Romney himself warned during his 2012 presidential campaign about supportive super PAC Restore Our Future: “My goodness, if we coordinate in any way whatsoever, we go to the big house.”

Except for this catch: Since Bush hasn’t formally declared himself a presidential candidate, and isn’t “actively exploring” a presidential bid using a conventional presidential exploratory committee, there’s nothing that legally prevents him from coordinating with a super PAC that’s supporting his non-candidacy.

Other would-be candidates including Paul have used pre-existing leadership PACs or even their congressional campaign committees as quasi-presidential campaign vehicles.

“Will he or won’t he?” is the subject of a December fundraising solicitation send by the Rand Paul for Senate 2016 committee. While not specifically mentioning a presidential run, the message’s subtext wasn’t subtle.

“A big quarter for me means the sky is the limit in 2015 and beyond and will play a big role in the big decisions I have ahead of me in the coming months,” Paul wrote supporters.

In Paul’s case, he’s considering running for president and the U.S. Senate simultaneously.

In the meantime, for those already fed up with the jockeying by big-name presidential non-candidates, it’s a safe bet that Pogo Mochello Allen-Reese, Morrison McKelvy Bonpasse or Mr. and Mrs. James McCord Sewell III would love to hear from you.

Read more in Federal Politics

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