WASHINGTON -- Headed into the 2016 presidential campaign, the Hillary Clinton camp has been confident it will be able to raise the kind of money that can scare off any Democratic challenger and compete with the GOP in the general election. Part of that confidence comes from knowing that two of the planet’s best fundraisers -- former President Bill Clinton and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe -- are core members of the team.
But it may not be that simple. Lawyers involved with Hillary Clinton's as-yet-undeclared election effort are studying whether campaign finance laws significantly restrict the activities of both men, according to sources close to the discussions.
For the former president, the question comes down to coordination: While a super PAC can legally raise unlimited amounts of money from high-dollar donors, it cannot coordinate with the candidate or the campaign. As a spouse of the candidate, it’s unclear how involved Bill Clinton can be in the super PAC’s activities.
Federal Election Commission rules allow candidates to speak at events held by super PACs, but they are barred from soliciting unlimited checks. If the same rules are deemed to apply to former President Clinton, he would be barred from soliciting big money from major donors, though he would be allowed to speak at events.
McAuliffe, meanwhile, faces a different problem. Politico reported earlier this week that Priorities USA, a super PAC pledged to support a Clinton candidacy with roots in the Obama campaign, was beginning to rely on McAuliffe to up its fundraising game.
But lawyers are digging into the question of how involved McAuliffe can be, given his position as governor. Virginia has extraordinarily lax laws when it comes to campaign finance, which should give McAuliffe broad sway, though the state’s gift rules are much stricter. Sitting governors are limited in what kind of gifts –- flights, meals, concerts, for example -- they can accept, and such things are at the center of fundraising. It’s not an idle concern: McAuliffe’s predecessor, Bob McDonnell, was convicted of accepting gifts from a donor.
Such a legal obstacle doesn’t exist on the Republican side, where the Koch brothers and their associates have pledged to spend close to a billion dollars -– money they can pull directly from their own bank accounts without restrictions.
The unexpected hiccup comes in the wake of Clinton camp infighting that broke into the open when The New York Times published a story critical of Clinton fundraiser Mary Pat Bonner, relying on anecdotes that could only have come from fundraising rivals within the Clinton camp, including at Priorities USA.