Without lifting a finger, Hillary Clinton already has the backing of an experienced fundraising team, veteran voter-turnout specialists from a winning 2012 presidential campaign and donations of more than $1 million.
Those encouraging the former U.S. secretary of state to run for president have created what amounts to the most robust campaign infrastructure yet among any Democrats who potentially could run for the White House in 2016.
On Clinton’s behalf, the Ready for Hillary super political action committee is building a database of supporters and donors, lining up endorsements and signing experienced campaign hands. It also raised $1.25 million through the end of June, the majority of it in just one month. All are essential steps for presidential campaigns in the Internet era.
“Ready for Hillary is one of the groups that can begin to apply what now is the state-of-the-art in data management, data collection and social media, and growing a knowledge base of who the supporters are, where they are, what their issues are, so that sometime in the future, should we all be lucky enough that Secretary Clinton says she’s going to run, that information is available,” said Ellen Tauscher, a former California congresswoman and Clinton undersecretary of state who is helping with fundraising and acting as a strategic adviser.
A Federal Election Commission filing yesterday provided the first in-depth look at how Ready for Hillary is raising and spending money. The group’s actions are playing out in an atmosphere where presidential campaigns have become lengthier 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 campaigns.
The bulk of the pro-Hillary super-PAC’s spending so far has been on digital advertising to build its e-mail list and expand its social media reach. Through June, it had spent $469,303, the filing shows, with almost 44 percent of the total going to online advertising.
It has more than 10,000 donors and three-quarters of the contributions were for $25 or less, the group said in statement yesterday. One of the popular donation amounts to the group is $20.16.
Ready for Hillary is engaging in activities that “mirror what a campaign would do to get organized,” said Tauscher, who had dinner with her former boss in June near the Clinton home in Chappaqua, New York. Federal election law prohibits coordination between a candidate and a super-PAC, although if Clinton were to enter the race she could rent or purchase the group’s databases.
If it all seems a bit early -- 29 months before the first primary campaign votes are likely to be cast -- think again.
“List building is hard, so the sooner you start, the better off you are,” said Nicco Mele, who teaches classes on the Internet and politics at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. “You want to start hiring and building out the infrastructure in late 2013.”
Mele, who worked on Internet strategy for Howard Dean’s 2004 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, estimates that a well-positioned candidate would want to have e-mail addresses for about 1 million supporters by March 2015, a point where they’ll likely be spending at least some money on travel, advertising and field workers. A large database of campaign supporters makes so-called small-dollar fundraising easier.
“You need at least six months of list building, probably 12 months,” he said. “You want to roll into the spring of 2015 with as many e-mail addresses as you can.”
On the Republican side, Mele said Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is the only potential presidential candidate who seems to be aggressively building his database of supporters.
Ready for Hillary has hired the Democratic firm 270 Strategies to help with grassroots organizing, volunteer training and recruitment. The firm, which was paid $15,000 in June for its services, was formed earlier this year by two veterans of President Barack Obama’s campaigns, Jeremy Bird, the former national field director, and Mitch Stewart, the former battleground states director.
The group’s national finance council was formed May 29 and includes founding members Steve and Amber Mostyn, both Houston lawyers, and Susie Tompkins Buell, a San Francisco philanthropist who co-founded Esprit Holdings Ltd, a clothing company.
Notable contributors so far include former Clinton political adviser Ann Lewis, former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Thomas “Mack” McLarty, Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andy Tobias and former U.S. ambassador to Portugal Elizabeth Bagley.
The group has limited donations to $25,000 per person to give the effort more grassroots credibility. Marcy Carsey, a co- owner of the television production company Carsey-Werner, producer of such programs as “The Cosby Show” and “Roseanne,” was among those who gave $25,000, as did New York arts philanthropist Agnes Gund, Oregon publishing executive Winthrop McCormack and former Qualcomm Inc. founder Irwin Jacobs.
“Raising money is part of a way to have people make commitments,” Tauscher said, adding that it’s a roughly 95- percent-accurate predictor of whether someone will vote for a candidate.
Since Ready for Hillary formed in January, it has also signed up some of the top names in Democratic politics. Longtime Clinton confidante Harold Ickes has been offering informal advice and James Carville, another veteran adviser to the Clintons, has lent his name to a fundraising appeal. Craig Smith, a former White House political director under Bill Clinton, is also working as an unpaid adviser.
The super PAC has five full-time employees. It plans to open chapters on college campuses later this year and intends to organize supporters and volunteers in all 50 states.
Republicans are also doing early work to try to cut into Clinton’s support on the assumption that she will be the Democratic nominee. The groups opposing Clinton include the “Stop Hillary PAC” and “Stop Hillary 2016,” which is part the pro-Republican AmericaRisingPAC.org super-PAC and led by Matt Rhoades, the campaign manager for Republican Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid.
Clinton, 65, has said she has no plans for a second presidential run. She also hasn’t ruled it out. Her body language will be closely watched by the political community in the months, and years, ahead for any signal that she’s approaching a decision.
For now, Clinton has said she plans to focus on early childhood development, opportunities for girls and women, and economic development and jobs. She’s also in the middle of a lucrative public speaking schedule and writing a book.
“There is an argument for getting started early that says the sooner you can get to work building out a detailed technology infrastructure to communicate with potential supporters the better,” said Phil Singer, a New York-based Democratic strategist who was deputy communications manager for Clinton’s 2008 campaign. “On the other hand, the second you become a candidate, you get the kind of scrutiny that goes with being a candidate.”
Singer said the books and movies about Clinton that will appear in the coming months are unlikely to change her standing much in the polls. He called her the “political equivalent of Coke or McDonalds,” a tested brand already well-known.
“This is a political name that has been at the forefront of government and politics for 20-plus years,” he said. “She is going to be shaping perceptions of herself, as a number of things are going on around her.”
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