WASHINGTON — In an effort to beef up his undeclared presidential candidacy and avoid criticism that he is violating the spirit of the federal campaign laws, Vice President George Bush announced on Friday the formation of a presidential exploratory committee.
Bush's aides said the committee will take over the task of financing Bush's campaign in Michigan, where he is competing against two other 1988 Republican presidential prospects, New York Rep. Jack Kemp and TV evangelist Pat Robertson, in the GOP primary Aug. 5.
In that balloting, voters will select thousands of precinct delegates who will ultimately shape the Michigan contingent to the 1988 Republican National Convention. The primary thus marks the beginning of the GOP presidential nominating process.
'Testing the Waters'
Bush's new "testing the waters" fund could pump up to $750,000 into the Michigan effort, aides say. He has already spent $300,000 from his political action committee, called the Fund for America's Future, under the banner of "party building" in Michigan.
Critics contended that Bush's use of the fund in Michigan violated at least the spirit of the federal campaign laws, which put rigorous limits on the amount of money politicians can receive in contributions or spend in political activity once they have formally declared their presidential candidacies.
Bush had maintained that he would not have to count his PAC's spending toward his presidential campaign spending limit, should he decide to run, and the Federal Election Commission earlier this year upheld the Fund for America's Future activities in Michigan. But, as the intensity of the Michigan campaign increased in recent weeks, Bush decided to change his position by creating the exploratory committee. All contributions to the committee will be counted against the estimated 1988 federal limit of $26 million.
Reason for Move
"The reason we're doing this is that the vice president feels that with Republicans running against Republicans for precinct delegate in Michigan, there's no way you can look somebody in the eye and say it's just party building," said Ron Kaufman, assistant to the chairman of the Fund for America's Future.
"I want to put my full support behind dedicated Republicans seeking these delegate positions," Bush said. "I intend to endorse specific candidates for these delegate positions and to work for their election.
"I am determined that any political effort with which I am associated will comply with all federal election laws, especially the reporting of political expenditures," he said. "The establishment of an exploratory account will accomplish this goal."