WASHINGTON -- As the 2016 campaign for the White House has developed into a largely unpoliced affair of candidates masquerading as noncandidates and super PAC-run campaigns, it has been vital for the players to stick to the correct legal language to properly abide by what little campaign finance law remains.
Apparently, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee didn’t get the memo. In announcing his bid for the Republican Party presidential nomination on Tuesday, Huckabee declared that his campaign, unlike those of his opponents, would not be funded by billionaires, but would instead be paid for by small donations of the $10 or $25 variety.
However, he said, “Now, rest assured, if you want to give a million dollars, please do it."
The catch: The maximum amount federal candidates can legally solicit for their own campaigns or a supportive super PAC is $5,400. Even if it’s just a joke.
Huckabee was likely hoping for million-dollar donations to go to his very own super PAC, Pursuing America’s Greatness. Formed earlier this year, the group can collect unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations or, unlikely, unions.
While it is illegal for Huckabee to solicit $1 million or more for his super PAC, as he did, he could have just told people that they should give to the group without giving a contribution suggestion. You see, candidates can raise money and attend fundraisers for super PACs as long as they never directly ask for contributions above $5,400.
These rules stem from a 2011 decision by the Federal Election Commission, when two Democratic Party super PACs -- House Majority PAC and Senate Majority PAC -- asked if party leaders could raise money for them. The FEC ruled that candidates and elected officials could attend fundraisers or ask for the limited maximum or less, but that they could not directly solicit unlimited sums.
The restrictions has essentially been cosmetic as leaders like Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R) routinely raise money and attend events for their party super PACs and dark money nonprofit groups.
In the 2016 election, these restrictions have been all but sacked as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), among others, have refused to declare their candidacy while soliciting six- and seven-figure contributions for their unlimited money political vehicles. These politicians believe they can avoid laws that apply to declared candidates or those exploring a candidacy by simply not verbalizing that they're running, even as they attend candidate forums.
They have also determined -- correctly -- that the government agency charged with overseeing elections will simply not police their behavior.
In this atmosphere, Huckabee’s joking violation seems almost quaint.