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In the United States, the phrase testing the waters is used to describe someone who is exploring the feasibility of becoming a candidate for political office.[1][2]

"Testing the waters" activities are to be paid for with candidate-permissible funds.[2] Once an individual begins to campaign or decides to become a candidate, funds that were raised or spent to "test the waters" apply to the $5,000 threshold for qualifying as a candidate.[1] This is because there is a federal law that once an individual raises or spends $5,000 for a campaign, they are required to register as a federal candidate.[3] Once that threshold is exceeded, the individual must register with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) (candidates for the United States House of Representatives) or the Secretary of the Senate (candidates for the United States Senate), and begin to file reports (including in the first report all activity that occurred prior to reaching the $5,000 threshold).[1]

Once an individual registers as a federal candidate, election restrictions apply, including 2,700 dollars on contributions.[4] Also, once registered as a candidate, individuals cannot coordinate with political action committees (PACs) or Super PACs under campaign finance law.[5]

Reporting on "testing the waters"Edit

On July 1st, it was reported that Nancy Rotering allegedly received donations for her congressional campaign in excess of $5,000 as early as January and did not officially register as a candidate with the FEC until March.

On June 18, 2015, it was reported that Scott Walker had formed a "testing the waters" committee.[6]

On June 4, 2015, it as reported that the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan legal organization, filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission against Democrat Martin O’Malley and Republicans Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum and Scott Walker alleging violations of federal law “testing the waters.”[7]

On June 3, 2015, it was reported that as of June 3, Jeb Bush was still "testing the waters", and had not registered as a federal candidate.[4]

On April 9, 2015, it was reported that Rick Santorum set up a "testing the waters" account.[8]


  1. ^ a b c (PDF) Archived from the original (PDF) on July 3, 2015. Retrieved July 2, 2015. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ a b "'Testing The Waters': The Unseen Significance Of A Candidate Cliche". 2015-03-24. Retrieved 2015-07-10.
  3. ^ "Nancy Rotering Accused of Violating Federal Campaign Law By Conservative Group | Deerfield, IL Patch". 2015-07-01. Retrieved 2015-07-10.
  4. ^ a b "Jeb Bush, Taking His Time, Tests the Legal Definition of Candidate". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-07-10.
  5. ^ "Jeb Bush eyes new role for his super PAC during 2016 campaign". April 21, 2015. Retrieved June 15, 2015.
  6. ^ Lovelace, Ryan (2015-06-18). "Scott Walker forms a 'testing the waters' committee". Washington Examiner. Retrieved 2015-07-10.
  7. ^ "Republican FEC commissioner admittedly blocking complaints against Republicans". TheHill. 2015-06-04. Retrieved 2015-07-10.
  8. ^ "Rick Santorum sets up 'testing the waters' account ahead of possible 2016 W.H. bid". Washington Times. Retrieved 2015-07-10.