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Super PAC-Funded Jeb Bush Says There’s Too Much Anonymous Money in Politics

Bush, who has benefited more from super PACs than any other candidate, says US should overturn controversial 'Citizens United' ruling.
Photo by Justin Lane/EPA

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is lagging in the polls despite millions spent to support his campaign, said Monday that he wants to overturn the Supreme Court's controversial Citizens United ruling.

Bush's comments came first on CNN and then at a rally in New Hampshire, where he's struggling for a second-place finish in tomorrow's primary after a poor showing in Iowa last week.

"If I could do it all again I'd eliminate the Supreme Court ruling," Bush said of Citizens United on CNN Monday. "This is a ridiculous system we have now where you have campaigns that struggle to raise money directly and they can't be held accountable for the spending of the super PAC that's their affiliate."

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The comments seem ironic coming from a Republican candidate who has been backed by the ubiquitous super PAC Right to Rise, which has raised $118 million for the 2016 presidential race, almost four times as much as any other Republican super PAC and triple what Priorities USA Action has raised for Hillary Clinton.

But the super PAC funding meant to support Bush hasn't been as effective as his campaign may have hoped. Although Right to Rise is run by a close ally of Bush's, Mike Murphy, its advertising strategy has been roundly criticized by many of his supporters and donors as Bush's campaign has failed to gain traction despite the massive spending.

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And Bush's statement comes in New Hampshire, a traditionally independent state that has been flooded with largely negative super PAC ads for nearly a year. About 700 people attended a three-day convention in downtown Manchester over the weekend with the stated goal of "getting big money out of politics." Dan Weeks, the director of the anti-super PAC organization New Hampshire Rebellion, which organized the event, said that every seat in the tent was filled.

Speakers included New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who attended the event as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton, and longtime campaign finance reform advocate and Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig. Campaign finance reform activists also attended campaign rallies of the various candidates and marched to the Republican debate on Saturday to further bring attention to campaign finance reform and super PAC spending.

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Interestingly, Bush's comments put him in line with not only the two Democratic candidates, but also Republican frontrunner Donald Trump on the issue of outside spending. Trump has criticized the Citizens United ruling — although he hasn't explicitly called to overturn it — and has touted his ability to self-fund his campaign and refuse super PAC support in the hopes of galvanizing voters. That effort, however, seems to be insufficiently successful for Trump, who complained after coming in second in Iowa that voters weren't crediting him for avoiding super PAC funds and spending his own money.

I don't believe I have been given any credit by the voters for self-funding my campaign, the only one. I will keep doing, but not worth it!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2016

Bush said Monday that he wanted to convene a constitutional convention to overturn CItizens United, but given the nearly impossible task of doing so, would prefer to allow for unlimited contributions that were transparently reported. Bush's campaign has been floating the possibility of limitless contributions from donors that are publicly disclosed within 48-hours since at least October of last year.

The back-up plan to maintain unlimited fundraising, while providing some transparency, puts him in line with several of the other Republican candidates running for president this year, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who called for full disclosure within 24-hours.

But actually overturning Citizens United has little public support among the other candidates for president. Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have both praised and defended the Citizens United decision, with Cruz arguing that it hasn't gone far enough. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has been less clear on the issue, alternately calling it "a problem" this summer in New Hampshire and then saying that it is a low priority that he doesn't know what to do about.

Olivia Becker contributed reporting to this story.

Follow Sarah Mimms on Twitter @SarahMMimms.