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In Jeb Bush campaign leadup, nonprofit plays larger role than previously thought

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A nonprofit linked to Jeb Bush plays a larger role in his political organization than previously believed, with several top policy advisers who could easily jump over to a likely presidential campaign, according to The Washington Post.

Right to Rise Policy Solutions houses a minimum of four people — each knowledgeable in energy issues, foreign affairs and communications – as a nonprofit advocacy group able to raise unlimited funds. Many of those donations, from individuals and corporations, are shielded from the public.

This heavy reliance on a nonprofit in groundwork for a presidential bid puts Bush on an untested legal ground, says Post reporters Ed O’Keefe and Matea Gold. For one, the organization does not have to disclose who pays the salaries of these potential future Bush campaign advisers.

And with a politically deadlocked Federal Election Commission, it is unlikely there will be any scrutiny of the operation.

Among the new hires for the nonprofit group is Michael Steel, a former spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner.  If, or when, Bush officially begins his run for the White House, Steel would shift to the campaign.

Three other staffers are in a similar position: Marcus Peacock, an environmental and energy expert formerly with the Senate Budget Committee. Robert Karem and John ­Noonan Former, both congressional staffers, work with Bush at Right to Rise Policy Solutions as foreign policy consultants.

If Bush launches a campaign, the group “will continue its education efforts independent of such campaign,” said the group’s founder William Simon, a former Wal-Mart executive. In an email to The Post, he said, “some of our policy team are on short-term contracts to help get up to speed building policy and creating an informational Web site. As the year progresses, I expect that some will move on to other opportunities.”

Simon, who founded the Right to Rise Policy Solutions in February, served under Bush in Florida’s Department of Management Services.

One consequence of a nonprofit group hosting Bush aides before a campaign is that the public may never know who is paying for the people behind Bush’s policies. As a tax-exempt “social welfare” group, Right to Rise Policy Solutions can raise unlimited funds while keeping the names of the contributors secret. Simon said he could eventually disclose names of donors, but was not specific when that might happen.

“The beauty of nonprofits from the standpoint of some donors is that the source of the money will never see the light of day,” said political law attorney Kenneth Gross from the Skadden Arps practice. “The entire process is going to be even less transparent than it has been in the past.”

Campaign finance experts tell The Post that this relationship between a nonprofit and Bush is a potential legal risk. Campaign laws bar a candidate from directly or indirectly developing an organization that is not subject to federal contribution limits.

However, the law might not apply to Bush since he is not yet a candidate for the White House. And with an FEC mired in political gridlock, O’Keeffe and Gold say it is doubtful that the six-member commission would further pursue the issue.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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