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Jeb Bush used to worry about appearing too beholden to wealthy donors. Not anymore.

Jeb Bush, campaigning in Iowa in March.
Jeb Bush, campaigning in Iowa in March.
Scott Olson / Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.
  1. Jeb Bush is going to start asking donors to give more than $1 million to his Super PAC, lifting a self-imposed limit, reports Politico's Alex Isenstadt.
  2. The cap was initially put in place a few months ago because Bush was reportedly worried about looking too beholden to super-wealthy supporters. But now his desire to far outraise his rivals has superseded this concern, according to Isenstadt.
  3. Bush is trying to maximize how much money he rakes in for his Super PAC before an expected summer campaign announcement, after which he'd have to stop directly asking for such large sums.
  4. Hillary Clinton has also decided to directly fundraise for a Super PAC supporting her, the New York Times's Maggie Haberman and Nick Confessore reported Wednesday. Since she's announced her campaign, though, she won't be able to directly ask potential donors to give more than $5,000 each.

Lax campaign finance law leads to a race to the bottom

Bush's decision to start raising even larger sums for his Super PAC is just the latest move from a 2016 contender to up the ante when it comes to fundraising. So far this year, the various contenders have been pulling in more and more big bucks, and the competition among them ends up spurring everyone to go further and further.

However, it was actually Bush who kicked off this domino effect. Early on, to establish Bush's claim to be the GOP frontrunner and his ability to compete with Hillary Clinton, his team moved forward quickly with a "shock and awe" plan to raise huge sums of money. According to some reports, Bush planned to raise $100 million in just a few months.

Ironically, he calculated that the best way for him to raise the money he needed for his presidential bid was to postpone actually running for president — so he can avoid adhering to the fundraising limits placed on a candidate or someone who's exploring a candidacy. Indeed, Bush hasn't even yet told the FEC he's considering a bid, as candidates "testing the waters" are supposed to do.

His effort seemed to be going well — in late April, the Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe and Matea Gold reported that Bush told his Super PAC donors their fundraising haul was the best for any GOP operation in modern history. He was raising sizable sums from so many donors that his team told individuals not to give more than $1 million each, according to Gold.

Yet Bush's GOP rivals, desperate to compete with his expected haul and prove they were plausible contenders, responded. And it turned out that in an age of unlimited fundraising, several of them could hook a few big fish and raise tens of millions of dollars. For instance, Ted Cruz's Super PAC operation managed to raise $31 million in just one week. Marco Rubio is said to have already landed one eight-figure donor, and is reportedly the frontrunner for the endorsement of billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the top GOP donor in 2012.

So even if Bush's fundraising is on track, it won't make him as dominant over his rivals as he once thought it would. He hasn't risen in the polls, either. As a result, he's decided to start asking for donations of over $1 million after all.

The answer to every campaign problem: raise more money!

Concerns about looking beholden to a few wealthy donors no longer seem to matter when everyone else looks like they are, too.

For instance, Hillary Clinton so far hasn't been fundraising for the Super PACs expected to back her. But lately, she's "expressed frustration and astonishment at how Mr. Bush has gone about raising money, according to two people who have spoken with her," Haberman and Confessore report. Now she's using Bush's big haul as a justification to start asking for Super PAC funds herself — even though she isn't expected to face a long and expensive primary fight, so she won't actually need as much money.

There are some important distinctions between Clinton and Bush's situations. Bush is clearly stretching the limits of campaign finance law much more than Clinton, since he's refusing to abide by the FEC fundraising limits for people exploring a presidential candidacy. (The chair of the FEC has called behavior like Bush's "absurd.") Clinton, having already announced her candidacy, can only ask for a few thousand dollars from each donor for the Super PAC. However, her Super PAC can still raise unlimited funds as long as she doesn't directly ask for it. Bush's Super PAC will also still be able to do so after he announces.

Overall, the latest reports on Bush and Clinton's thinking make clear that the desperate chase for cash will continue for quite some time. There's always an argument that "since the other guy is raising so much, I have to do the same." And it's an rationale that, it appears, all the major 2016 candidates will use again and again.

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