“Very little,” said Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause.
Candidates are not required to register with the F.E.C. unless they have raised or spent more than $5,000, but “there is nothing that prohibits someone who hasn’t raised or spent that amount of money from filing,” Mr. Ryan said. “That’s why you see hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of not serious candidates, and to some extent completely fake or joke candidates.”
In other words, you have to file these forms to run a serious presidential campaign, but filing them doesn’t mean you actually are running a serious presidential campaign.
If you have ever looked at a presidential ballot, you will not be surprised to learn that it doesn’t list all of the hundreds of people who decided to register themselves with the F.E.C. The F.E.C. doesn’t control the ballot access process — or, rather, processes, because every state has its own.
In most states, independent presidential candidates — which is what Mr. West would be, because the “Birthday Party” listed in his paperwork is not a federally recognized party — must collect a certain number of signatures, ranging from a few hundred to nearly 200,000, to qualify for the ballot. A small handful of states allow candidates to get on the ballot simply by paying a fee, which Mr. West did Wednesday in Oklahoma for $35,000.
Unfortunately for Mr. West, Oklahoma has only seven electoral votes, and the signature submission deadlines in several other states, including Florida (29 electoral votes), have already passed. Others are coming up in the next two weeks.
“Filing these two forms with the Federal Election Commission are really the two easiest parts of running for president,” Mr. Ryan said. “Every state has its own rules for what it takes to have your name on the ballot, their own deadlines, their own requirements. That’s the hard part — and then actually running a campaign.”
What the filings do mean, if it was in fact Mr. West who filed them, is that he is now required to file a personal financial disclosure form within 30 days (though he can request an extension) and that his organization is required to file quarterly campaign finance reports even if he doesn’t raise a dime.