When is an “exploratory committee” not an exploratory committee?
Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson announced in April he was “exploring a run for the U.S. Senate” next year. In public statements and social media posts since April, he’s indicated he’s still undecided on whether to run for the seat currently held by Mitt Romney.
That’s not exactly true.
Wilson has been an official candidate since he filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission in April — he’s just calling his effort an “exploratory committee.”
During his speech at the Utah State Republican Convention in April, Wilson railed against the evils of Washington, D.C., and told delegates he was considering a run, even though he had filed as a candidate the week before.
“America does not need more D.C., and that, in part, is why I’m actually exploring a run for the U.S. Senate. Washington needs to be more like Utah,” Wilson said.
FEC rules allow candidates to explore a possible run, but the activities they can engage in are limited. They can conduct polling and gauge support for a possible run, but they cannot campaign, raise, or spend more than $5,000. Exploratory committees are not required to file with the FEC.
Wilson was hardly testing the waters.
In a bit of political sleight of hand, Wilson named his official campaign entity the “Brad Wilson Exploratory Committee” when he filed paperwork with the FEC in April. By doing that, Wilson can pretend he’s still thinking about running but would not be bound by limits for non-declared candidates.
On Tuesday morning, Wilson announced he had raised more than $1 million since April. Wilson also donated $1.2 million of his own money to the campaign effort. In a news release trumpeting the campaign haul, Wilson again claimed he had not yet decided whether to run, despite being a declared candidate for nearly three months.
“This finance report is only the beginning and shows that, should I decide to run, we will have the resources and firepower we need to get our message out — and win,” Wilson’s news release said.
Wilson’s team did not answer questions about why they adopted the “exploratory committee” moniker when the organization is legally a campaign.
“There are many components to exploring a run for office like this, to comply with the necessary regulations the exploratory committee filed in the most legally complimentary way to be able to raise funds, gauge support and meet with Utahns,” a Wilson campaign spokesperson said in response to questions from The Tribune.
Wilson’s political doublespeak is not unheard of, but it’s also not a common practice. Just eight of the hundreds of congressional campaign committees have branded themselves as “exploratory committees” since 2021, according to the FEC database. West Virginia Democrat Zachary Shrewsbury is using the same gambit ahead of next year’s U.S. Senate contest in that state.
Romney has not yet said whether he will run for a second term in the Senate next year, but he filed his declaration of candidacy with the FEC a day before Wilson announced his “exploratory committee.” According to his most recent financial disclosure, Romney raised just over $110,000 during the first three months of the year but still has more than $600,000 in the bank.
Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs launched his campaign for U.S. Senate in May.