This story has been updated.
Ready for Hillary has spent at least $4.86 million since it formed in April 2013, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. And yes, the 2016 presidential election is still two years away.
The super PAC (or hybrid PAC -- as Politico reported, Ready for Hillary can now make donations to political candidates as well as collect unlimited contributions) spent more than $1.5 million between January 1, 2014, and March 31, 2014, according to their April 15 Federal Election Commission report. They raised about $1.7 million. Ready for Hillary spent more than $700,000 on salary and wages since starting, and has 26 staffers at this point.
None of the money they have spent went toward the independent expenditures that are usually a super PAC's bread and butter. Ready for Hillary is doing something a little different. They aren't trying to attack Clinton opponents. No one has declared their candidacy in either the Democratic or Republican primaries, so helping Clinton in the polls is simply a hypothetical exercise at this point. Because Ready for Hillary is a new invention as far as post-Citizens United election law goes, it's hard to assess how successful it is. There's nothing to compare it to.
Seth Bringman, Ready for Hillary's communications director, says their success will be measured by how many email addresses and how much data they can provide their candidate of choice if she decides to run.
"If she decides to run," he says, "Hillary will start the 2016 campaign with a larger database of email addresses and supporter information than she ended with in the 2008 campaign."
Ready for Hillary has rented out the Hillary email list from her 2008 campaign to use for fundraising appeals — to great success.
Since Clinton is not a candidate, that's legal according to current Federal Election Commission rules -- although Stop Hillary PAC filed a FEC complaint against the move. If Hillary decides to run however, Ready for Hillary wouldn't be able to give her — or any exploratory committee she formed — the list as a gift for announcing. Even though Ready for Hillary is a hybrid PAC, the value of the list would far exceed the limit they can donate — $5,000.
"However, the 2016 campaign could rent or purchase the list from RFH, so long as the campaign pays fair market value — which can be difficult to determine (leaving campaigns with significant leeway)," writes Daniel Weiner, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice in an email.
Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Law Center agrees. He told columnist Walter Shapiro in March, “She would have to buy it. The FEC tends to require fair-market value for any list sale. The watchdog in me would argue that the value of that list is what it cost to create it. But that may not be how the FEC views things.”
Shapiro continued, "The odds are miniscule that the FEC would require an outlandish price for the Ready for Hillary list. But whatever the cost, it would be one of the great bargains in 21st century politics, assuming Hillary runs."
So what might the value be? One number to start with is the $5 million already spent assembling that list as of March 31. "In presidential campaigns, these lists are not built overnight," Bringman says. "It takes time to energize supporters."
Regardless of how successful we deem this new breed of super PAC by the time the 2016 election arrives, it's unlikely the FEC will consider energy an in-kind contribution.
Here's a look at some of the things Ready for Hillary spent money to get ready for 2016 in the first three months of 2014.
This week, Ready for Hillary started their first big pre-coronation campaign for Hillary Clinton, driving a bus across the country in conjunction with Clinton's "Hard Choices" book tour. They are going to book signings. They are going to state fairs. They are going to college campuses, anywhere they think Hillary supporters might be hiding.
"We're basically driving around in a giant advertisement for Hillary," Bringman says. Even when they stop at rest areas, they get asked by fellow travelers if the former secretary of state will run. "We tell, them, 'oh I don't know, but check out our Web site!'"
On the first stop for the Hillary bus at Clinton's first book signing in New York City, they signed up about 600 new supporters.
And they are likely going to keep going until Clinton's Shermanesque presidential evasions grow more resolute.
Traveling all the time can be expensive, however. Ready for Hillary is great friends with Priceline, Expedia and Uber.
Online travel booking: $11,297
Travel reimbursement: $23,402
Rental Cars: $9,319
In the first three months of the year, Ready for Hillary staffers stayed in Manchester, N.H., Concord, N.H., Las Vegas, Palm Springs, New York City and Des Monies, Iowa, among other places.
Tricking out the office: $56,046
This is one of the expenses you don't think of when you think super PAC -- especially since many have offices so small that they fit in a random P.O. Box in D.C. With 26 employees, however, Ready for Hillary needed a home.
Office supplies: $3,988
Office furniture: $17,175
Office construction: $12,318
Office internet: $653
Media consulting: $25,000
Field consulting: $20,000
The consulting firm 270 Strategies -- staffed by many of the people who made Obama's presidential campaign hum -- partnered with Ready for Hillary last year. "Smart organizations know that running a successful 21st century campaign means reaching people in multiple ways, including meeting them where they are both online and offline," wrote Mitch Stewart, 270 Strategies' co-founder and former battleground states director for the Obama campaign, in an email. "That’s why you’re seeing Ready for Hillary doing grassroots engagement now."
"Grassroots engagement" is not the first word people think of when they hear "super PAC." They aren't quite campaign-tested, so it's not clear whether the model works. Not that traditional super PACs always have brilliant returns on investment either.
However, their methods have proved magical in traditional campaigns, given the success of the Obama campaign, which is why the warm-up act in waiting for Hillary was interested in them. "Obviously they know this work very well."
The cost of making money: $130,873
As of March 31, Ready for Hillary collected $5.7 million in donations, and $3.7 million of that came from donors who gave more $200 or more.
Fundraising Consulting: $57,931
Event costs: $32,713
Ready for Hillary has held events at a community theater in North Little Rock, a brewery in Des Moines, a restaurant in New Orleans and the Washington, D.C. fundraising stand-by Johnny's Half-Shell, among other places.
Credit Card processing fees: $40,229
For a campaign so focused on e-mail gathering and Web advertising, it might seem strange that Ready for Hillary spends a serious amount of money on postage and printing. Alas, asking for donations via mail is still a necessity of any campaign -- and still the surest way to reach older voters who were donating to campaigns decades before the internet existed. Ready for Hillary ran a recent direct mail campaign that featured a picture of Clinton being sworn in as secretary of State, with her husband and daughter standing next to her. The mailer asks people to help Hillary be sworn in as president someday.
After supporters give their e-mail to Ready for Hillary, they become eligible for a free bumper sticker. Once they have your physical address, Ready for Hillary can send you fundraising appeals -- but more importantly, they can sketch out a map of where the most ardent Hillary fans (and possible volunteers) live.
Ready for Hillary also ships out all of the products from their online store in-house -- they need to print out the postage from Stamps.com, box it up and send it from their office in Virginia.
"It takes a tremendous amount of postage," Bringman says. The organization sold more than $350,000 worth of merchandise last year. Bringman says the t-shirts are their most popular items, but their New Year's Eve champagne flutes -- stamped with a 2016 -- sold out in two hours. Their dog collars and leashes — new additions to the store — have been popular too.
The Ready for Hillary Sharpies also sold out quickly. "I guess we haven't found anything that supporters won't buy yet," Bringman says.
The baby onesies have been "tremendously popular" he says. The office likes it when people dress their babies in them and then post a photo to Twitter or Instagram with their handle.
Postage and shipping supplies: $39,177
Direct mail: $232,496
P.O. Box Rental: $212
Asian food: $801
Thank you cookies for hosts: $826.17
Ready for Hillary is devoting much of their resources to Web advertising. If their goal is to collect as many email addresses as possible, this is one of the most efficient ways to do it. Since the group launched, they've spent $1,582,502 on Web ads -- which have included Facebook ads, Google Ad Words, and a few Spanish-language ads. One recent Web ad featured the text, "Hillary 2016? Sign up here."
Rising Tide Interactive (for online ads): $393,646
Online video: $1,040
Ready for Hillary has made a few fancy YouTube videos.
NGPVan is a progressive organization that helps campaigns and organizations keep all their supporter emails and information in one place.
Donation to Young Democrats of America: $500
Ready for Hillary gave the Young Democrats of America some money for their 2014 Winter conference -- their only donation so far.
Graphic design: $725