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Former President Donald Trump has all but declared he'll run for president in 2024.
But experts say it takes more than hints for him to be legally required to register with election regulators.
Trump gains advantages by delaying a formal announcement that he's running for office, some experts say.
Former President Donald Trump has been hinting at running for president seemingly everywhere he goes — on the golf course, on Fox News, at a conservative conference, and at a recent rally.
"In 2024, we are going to take back that beautiful, beautiful White House. I wonder who will do that?" he said during a March 12 rally in Florence, South Carolina.
Trump believes his litany of suggestions and near-declarations won't get him in trouble with the Federal Election Commission. But a Democratic super PAC is now betting otherwise.
American Bridge told the New York Times that it is filing a FEC complaint against Trump, accusing him of spending funds on a 2024 bid without formally declaring himself a candidate. The complaint cites Trump's comments last year: "I know what I'm going to do, but we're not supposed to be talking about it yet from the standpoint of campaign finance laws," Trump said, according to The Times.
"When he says 'I'm going to do it a third time,' that's not flirting. That's more than a toe dip," American Bridge President Jessica Floyd told The Times.
Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich called the complaint frivolous. And it's unlikely the six-commissioner, bipartisan FEC, which sometimes spends years considering cases, would find four votes needed to penalize Trump.
Trump must make more than a few indicative remarks for the federal government to require him to officially register as a presidential candidate and begin adhering to financial disclosure and fundraising limit requirements, election experts told Insider.
"There's no law against joking, bloviating, speculating, or predicting, said Brad Smith, chairman and founder of the Institute for Free Speech and a former Federal Election Commission chairman.
When is a presidential candidate a candidate?
To become an official candidate, Trump needs to put money where his mouth is.
He would have to raise or spend more than $5,000 specifically in support of a presidential campaign effort to officially register as a presidential candidate, according to Federal Election Commission guidelines.
"By pretending he's not running, he hopes to avoid having to file a financial disclosure report that all candidates must file," tweeted Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Governmental Ethics and now a Project on Government Oversight senior ethics fellow. "And who's going to force him to admit he's running? Our campaign laws are broken."
If Trump formally registered as a presidential candidate today, he'd soon be required to reveal significant details about his personal finances — always a topic of extreme political intrigue, given his wealth and the intersections of his business and political interests.
Presidential candidates must file certified personal financial disclosures "within 30 days after becoming a candidate for nomination or election, or by May 15 of that calendar year, whichever is later, but at least 30 days before the election," according to FEC rules. Presidential candidates may request up to two, 45-day filing extensions for "good cause shown." These disclosures include details about a candidate's finances, including income, employment, assets, debts, travel reimbursements, and gifts received.
On the golf course, Trump can be heard describing himself as the "45th and the 47th" president in a now-viral video. Later, at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando in February, again signaled that he is running.
Even though Trump has conducted campaign-style political rallies and raised tens of millions of dollars for his collection of post-presidential political committees — most notably, Save America PAC — he hasn't expressly declared that these committees exist in service to his presidential ambitions.
"If he starts to spend money pursuing a run for office, that could trigger candidacy," Ken Gross, former associate general counsel of the FEC, wrote in an email to Insider. "Making such a statement on a golf course, possibly in jest, about becoming the 47th president doesn't quite get you there."
While many election experts say the golf course comment is not enough to force Trump to register as an official presidential candidate, some have warned that if he keeps making these comments, his own mouth could force his hand to decide on whether he will register.
"This was just an offhand comment …But if Trump were to make more statements like that, especially in a public forum, then it becomes more likely that he would cross the threshold into a candidate status," said Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at Campaign Legal Center.
Ann Ravel, another former FEC chairwoman who now lectures at Berkeley Law, wrote to Insider that Trump got close to the blurry line between candidate and non-candidate with his comment on the golf course.
"This appears to be a decision to run, since he did not qualify it by saying 'if I run' — but stated that he planned to be the 47th President. So if he starts raising money, he must register as a candidate to disclose all his expenditures and contributions," Ravel said.
'He will be the nominee'
Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based Republican strategist, previously told Insider that Trump might be holding off his announcement to run for office for many reasons, including pending legal investigations, financial concerns, and health reasons.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told Insider on Wednesday, "Well, I think that if he's healthy, he will."
"If he wants to run, he will be the nominee, in my judgment," Gingrich said. "And the odds are pretty good he'll win."
Trump is still a favorite among potential 2024 Republican presidential candidates. Fifty-seven percent of Republican voters supported him to lead the GOP presidential ticket, according to a Harvard CAPS/Harris poll shared with The Hill.
Trump's recent comments hinting at another run for office come at a crucial time while Trump is aggressively fundraising for the Republican Party and his own PACs.
Save America, Trump's flagship political action committee, had more than $90 million in reserve as of June 30, latest FEC filings show.
Trump is also the animating force behind the Make America Great Again Action super PAC, which may raise and spend unlimited sums of money. Trump can personally use so long as he's not a declared candidate.
Election experts told Insider that there are financial benefits to Trump holding off his announcement to run for office.
"Before he becomes a candidate, he can be more involved with the operation of the super PAC. Once he becomes a candidate, then he can only raise and spend money," Fisher said.
Presidential campaign committees are also subject to fundraising restrictions that other kinds of political committees — particularly super PACs — are not.
For example, an individual donor can contribute a maximum of $5,800 to a single presidential campaign — $2,900 toward the primary, $2,900 toward a general election.
The same donor could give more to a PAC or a party committee — and give any amount they want to a super PAC.
This story was first published on January 28, 2022.
Read the original article on Business Insider