Several Clinton associates said they have received no indication from Clinton about whether she approves of the group.
“There are no winks; there are no nods,” Buell said.“We’ve all gotten a yellow light — we haven’t heard, ‘This is great, do it,’ and we haven’t heard, ‘This is not good, don’t do it.’ ”
After Clinton lost in 2008, her key advisers tried to keep an informal network of supporters going through a nonprofit group called No Limits Foundation, but Lewis said it folded in 2012. Lewis said Clinton plans to stay out of politics at least until she publishes a book next summer.
Ready for Hillary has been reaching out to prominent 2008 Obama supporters, hoping to prove that Clinton’s political base has expanded to incorporate Obama’s. Atop its list was Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who as an Obama surrogate publicly attacked Clinton. This week, she formally endorsed the super PAC — prompting a call of thanks from Clinton, McCaskill said.
Parkhomenko, 27, the group’s executive director, said the super PAC plans to open chapters on college campuses this fall and to recruit volunteer leaders in top battleground states to recruit their neighbors and friends.
“We can activate them should she decide to run,” he said.
The main advantage super PACs have over campaigns is the ability to raise unlimited amounts of money. Ready for Hillary, with a paid staff of five, will file its first donor disclosure reports in July. It says it has finance consultants working in five states and the District.
But, in an unusual decision, the group says it is capping donations at $25,000 per person, which organizers believe gives it a grass-roots sheen. Parkhomenko said donors have asked to contribute more than $1 million but that he has turned them down.
Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm (D), a Ready for Hillary donor, said the super PAC will also give Clinton an organizational edge if she decides to run. Election lawyers said the group could probably share voter data with an eventual campaign through a list exchange.
“Her lists are old, and her supporter contacts may be a little dusty,” Granholm said.
Unlike Priorities USA — which was run by former White House aides and whose strategy largely aligned with the president’s reelection campaign — Ready for Hillary is being run by relatively less experienced operatives who are more removed from Clinton’s inner circle.
One person in Democratic politics close to Clinton who did not want to be identified as critical of the outside efforts said the super PAC might “create a lot of chaos.” Others fret that Ready for Hillary could push Clinton into partisan politics earlier than she would like.
“I worry that this effort — while very well-intentioned — kind of shortens the life span of the icon and lengthens the life span of the politician. You kind of grimace,” said one Clinton campaign veteran, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly.
Meanwhile, some top GOP operatives have begun a “Stop Hillary” movement through the new super PAC America Rising. The group aims to “define the real Hillary,” according to a fundraising solicitation sent Thursday by co-founder Matt Rhoades, who managed Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.
“The Clinton Machine is extremely powerful, and we have seen it in action time and time again,” Rhoades wrote. “We need to stop it before it is too late.”
For now, at least, the machine is gearing up in a drab office near a nail salon and Chinese takeout restaurant outside the Beltway in Alexandria. The windows are painted over, and the carpet is stained. A handful of volunteers sat around Ikea tables one afternoon this week stuffing envelopes with more than 30,000 Ready for Hillary bumper stickers — one for everyone who has signed up on the Web site.
Soon, Parkhomenko says, the group will sell goods online. One planned item that he’s particularly enthusiastic about is a line of T-shirts — “Bill for First Gentleman,” “Bill for First Lady,” and “Bill for First Lad.”
Karen Tumulty contributed to this report.