Jeb Bush campaign money machine hits Chicago again

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GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush will make a campaign fundraising stop in Chicago on June 24. | AP file photo

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WASHINGTON — When Jeb Bush hit Chicago in February and April — and when his wife, Columba, visited the city in May — the fundraising stops were for Bush’s Right to Rise super PAC.

Right to Rise was officially an independent committee, but only on paper. Everyone saw through the legal fiction.

The organization was founded by Bush, created to let him travel, hire staff and spawn a political campaign while stockpiling tens of millions of dollars to go toward, one way or another, his 2016 White House run.

After a long runup, Bush finally declared for president on Monday in Miami. When Bush returns to Chicago next Wednesday for a reception at the Union League Club, 65 W. Jackson Blvd., he will ask that this time, the checks go to Jeb 2016 Inc.


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What’s the difference? Not the people. Staffers from Right to Rise moved to Jeb 2016.

In Illinois, the major Bush donor base is the same: Ron Gidwitz, Ty Fahner, Craig Duchossois, Muneer Satter, Christopher Galvin, Reeve Waud and Hank Paulson to name a few. Right to Rise fundraiser Lisa Wagner, who handled Illinois, now is raising money for Jeb 2016.

Once Bush said he was an official GOP presidential candidate, the rules for raising campaign cash changed. It’s much tougher now.

Since the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United ruling lifting restrictions on fundraising for independent groups, super PACs have become the game — more than political party spending or campaigns themselves.

Super PACs such as Right to Rise are allowed to take unlimited donations from individuals, corporations, unions and any other group. The contributions don’t count toward overall limits set by the Federal Election Commission.

So when the Bushes were in Chicago before the “official” announcement, they were asking for Right to Rise money in really big chunks: to give or raise $50,000, $100,000 and $250,000.

Federal campaigns are not allowed to take money directly from corporations or labor organizations – though the groups generally form PACs. Individual donations are capped at $2,700 for the primary and $2,700 for the general election. PACs can only transfer $5,000 to a campaign.

Bush now has to abide by those federal limits.

Bush is on a fundraising blitz with stops in Chicago and at least 10 other cities by the end of the month. In order to crank up the cash, Bush has devised a donor program, common in political fundraising, his team named “27 in Fifteen.”

According to the Bush invitation, if a person raises $27,500 for the June 24 event in Chicago, they will get a perk: an invitation for two to a retreat on the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, on July 9-10. Otherwise, a ticket is $2,700 per person; anyone who raises $10,000 gets to be listed as a “host” with a 30-minute “photo reception” before the main event.

Right to Rise, meanwhile, because it is “independent,” is now separate from the Bush campaign.

But the Bush allies who will run it have the benefit of working with Jeb Bush and his team all this year and know the thinking and strategy. So when Right to Rise starts to spend money, perhaps in taking down rivals, it will always be to advance the Bush candidacy.


Democratic presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley was in Chicago on Tuesday raising money at a reception hosted by Michael Forde, Sean Conlon and George Franklin at C Chicago, 20 W. Kinzie St. The pricing ranged from $2,700 to “host” down to $500 to attend.

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