Trump breaks precedent, files as candidate for re-election on first day

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(AP Photo) (AP Photo)

(MEREDITH) -- The same day he was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump filed to become a candidate for reelection in 2020, doing so much earlier in his first term than previous incumbent presidents. According to campaign filings with the Federal Election Commission, Trump’s filing as a candidate comes more than two years earlier in his term than any incumbent presidential candidate in at least 38 years.

Time-stamped at 5:11 p.m., Jan. 20, 2017, the letter, signed by Donald J. Trump, is submitted in place of FEC Form 2, a required form for candidates seeking elected office.

The timing of Trump’s eve-of-inauguration filing is unconventionally early, especially when looked at in the context of previous incumbent presidents who filed as candidates for re-election:

  • 47 months- Donald Trump filed on Jan. 20, 2017 for the 2020 election.
  • 19 months- Barack Obama filed on April 4, 2011 for his 2012 re-election bid.
  • 18 months- George W. Bush filed on May 16, 2003 to run for re-election in 2004.
  • 19 months- Bill Clinton filed on April 14, 1995 for his 1996 re-election campaign.
  • 12 months- George H.W. Bush cut it even closer, not filing until Oct. 11, 1991 for the 1992 election.
  • 12 months- Reagan had similarly close timing, filing on October 17, 1983 to run in 1984.

A candidate for president is subject to different rules than a president and is afforded different protections. This has critics on edge, and already existing concerns about Trump’s business entanglements are now heightened by fears that U.S. nationals could funnel cash to Trump through his campaign committee.

Trump’s status as a candidate could also make it difficult for nonprofit organizations to take action for or against Trump and his administration’s policies. 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organizations have more leeway for political action than other nonprofits but are still prohibited from certain political actions, leading some to worry that Trump’s filing could be a tactic to reduce opposition.

Legally, though, his candidacy would limit nonprofit action for and against Trump. On its website, the IRS instructs 501(c)(4) organizations to avoid “direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office,” or risk could losing their tax-exempt status.

Filing as a candidate years ahead of schedule has characterized by some as an attempt to exploit those rules and give Trump more ethical wiggle room than he would have as president.

But it also raises a host of complications for Trump, especially regarding rules around using official government resources while campaigning for office. A key barometer of this unique situation will likely be the actions of (and attention focused on) the Donald J. Trump for President committee, Trump’s principal campaign committee, and its two affiliated Joint Fundraiser committees, Trump Victory and Trump Make America Great Again. Both fundraising entities are shared with the Republican National Committee.  

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