Getting Ready for Hillary isn’t cheap.
The super political action committee by that name is averaging roughly $500,000 a month in expenses -- nearly as much as it’s bringing in -- as it builds a database of supporters and donors ahead of a possible 2016 presidential bid by the former U.S. secretary of state, senator from New York and first lady, disclosure records show.
Fundraising costs -- from online advertising to printing, from postage to airline flights and town car rentals -- are the group’s biggest expenses, generating revenue for selected vendors.
“We’re doing something different that has never been done before,” said Seth Bringman, the super-PAC’s spokesman. “We are looking to reinvest every dollar that comes in.”
Since Ready for Hillary has no plans to run television advertising like most super-PACs, Bringman says the group’s goal is to spend its money on a continuous basis as it creates the list of Clinton supporters ready for a potential White House run by her.
“We are not building up a bankroll,” he said. “There’s no need, unlike other super-PACs, to pile up resources.”
Without lifting a finger, Clinton already has the backing of an experienced fundraising team, veteran voter-turnout specialists from President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and endorsements by some of the biggest Democratic names. Ready for Hillary, based in a Virginia suburb outside Washington, also has raised $5.7 million from about 55,000 donors since it was set up last year.
Those encouraging a Clinton presidential bid have created what amounts to the most robust campaign infrastructure so far among any of the Democrats who might run in 2016.
A Federal Election Commission filing provides an in-depth look at how Ready for Hillary is raising and spending money.
The group’s actions are playing out in an atmosphere in which the presidential campaign’s preliminary stage has intensified because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision and other rulings that boosted the prominence of outside groups that spend unlimited sums on behalf of their preferred candidates.
The bulk of the pro-Clinton super-PAC’s spending so far has been on digital advertising to build its e-mail list and expand its social media reach.
The work of a firm called Rising Tide Interactive was the group’s biggest single expense during the quarter that ended March 31. The Washington-based online marketing and advertising company received almost $400,000, although virtually all of that was pass-through money to pay for ad placement on webpages such as those run by Google Inc. and Facebook Inc.
“There are definitely lots of ways to build lists, and advertising is one of the more expensive ways,” said Nicco Mele, who teaches classes on the Internet and politics at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. “But all the other ways of doing it require significant staff.”
The cheaper ways also require a candidate who can serve as a headline draw for rallies and other events -- something Ready for Hillary doesn’t have at the moment.
“They are building a pretty valuable asset for her,” said Mele, who worked on Internet strategy for Howard Dean’s 2004 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Heading into late 2015, Mele says, a 2016 presidential candidate will probably need an online list of 1 million to 3 million people to be financially competitive.
“You can’t really buy them,” he said.
The super-PAC, which raised about $1.7 million during the first quarter, is spending about $100,000 a month on payroll. All 22 employees -- a total grown from five in July 2013 -- are earning significantly less than $100,000 on an annual basis.
Employee costs will continue to grow, amid announcements such as one earlier this month that the group hired four regional organizing directors to cover the country’s Midwest, Northeast, West and Southern regions.
The super-PAC spent $135,000 during the first quarter on promotional items such as coffee mugs, buttons and baby onesies that it sells to raise money. RWT Production, a direct-mail firm based in Springfield, Virginia, was paid more than $131,000 during the quarter.
Ready for Hillary also spent tens of thousands of dollars on travel and entertainment during the quarter. US Airways was paid more than $11,000, while American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Airlines each drew more than $5,000.
Staff members need to routinely travel to train volunteers and coordinate fundraising events, Bringman said.
There are also charges for limousine and town-car rentals for high-profile Democrats, such as former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, who headlined fundraisers.
“That would be her transportation from the airport to the event,” Bringman said.
Clinton, 66, whose husband Bill Clinton served as president from 1993-2001, has said she’ll make a decision on a White House run by the end of this year. Polling of Democrats show she has a huge lead over the party’s other 2016 prospects.
Ready for Hillary says it has identified more than 2 million Clinton supporters and persuaded 750,000 people to sign a pledge to help her win if she runs. The group has said it has received contributions from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and every U.S. territory.
Some of the group’s high-profile donors include billionaire Alice Walton, the daughter of Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal- Mart Stores Inc. founder Sam Walton, and billionaire financier George Soros.
Both gave $25,000, the maximum donation Ready for Hillary is accepting -- even though super-PACs are permitted to accept contributions in unlimited amounts.
Donors giving the maximum amount during the first quarter included Laurene Jobs, the widow of Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs; Sharon Corzine, wife of former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine; and Denver, Colorado, software entrepreneur Tim Gill. Daniel Neidich, chief executive officer of New York-based Dune Real Estate Partners LP, also wrote a check for $25,000, and actor Alec Baldwin gave $5,000, the latest filing shows.
The disclosure report shows that even a high-tech grassroots movement still has need of the U.S. Postal Service. The super-PAC paid Stamps.com nearly $25,000 during the first quarter and the postal service $12,307.
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