Hillary Rodham Clinton is considering the nitty-gritty details of how and when to organize a presidential campaign amid signs that she will postpone making her shadow campaign official until later in 2015 than expected, according to advisers and Democratic strategists.
Clinton and her small circle of close advisers are weighing legal advice to set up a strict firewall between her and the numerous outside groups backing her presumed 2016 candidacy, according to a person familiar with the talks. The quarantine would run for a set period of time before she would announce her candidacy, as a way to make sure that the campaign and outside groups do not run afoul of federal election rules.
Clinton is also debating whether to establish an exploratory committee — a placeholder organization that would allow her to raise money to pay for consultants, office space and other operating expenses. But the move would trigger financial disclosures she can now avoid, and Clinton is getting a lot of advice against forming such a committee, two Democratic strategists said.
An exploratory committee might also appear too coy for a previous candidate with obvious ambitions for a second try, according to several Democratic advisers, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because Clinton has not yet said she is running.
“At this point, what would she be exploring?” one strategist with ties to Clinton said.
The strategy discussions provide further evidence that the former secretary of state and first lady is edging closer to another run for the presidency, after two years writing and promoting a memoir, giving paid speeches and strengthening ties with key Democratic interest groups. But rather than announce in January — as she did in 2007 — Clinton allies are increasingly working under the assumption that an official announcement will not come until spring.
Several potential Republican candidates, including Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have also signaled that they plan to wait until spring or later for a final decision. The only official 2016 candidate so far is former U.S. senator Jim Webb (D) from Virginia, who formed an exploratory committee last month.
The enforced separation now under discussion by Clinton and her aides would erect a clearer legal barrier between her and her unofficial campaign-in-waiting. It would put an end to the informal discussions now taking place between Clinton’s inner circle and operatives working for outside groups backing her.
Because Clinton is not a declared candidate for federal office, she and her advisers are allowed to communicate informally with groups such as Priorities USA Action, Ready for Hillary and American Bridge, whose Correct the Record project functions as a rapid-response operation on her behalf. If and when she announces her bid, however, Clinton’s campaign would not be able to share strategic information with allies outside the campaign and Democratic Party.
Another issue her aides are considering is a Federal Election Commission rule that requires a 120-day waiting period before an outside group can make an expenditure on a candidate’s behalf if they have hired a vendor or strategist who worked for the candidate’s campaign.
The rule led Restore Our Future, the super PAC that backed Mitt Romney in the 2012 campaign, to delay running its first ad until 120 days after it brought former Romney fundraising officials on board.
Priorities and Correct the Record are expected to function as an outside flanking operation for an official Clinton campaign, organizing and paying for advertising, research efforts and other activities. Ready for Hillary — which has collected an extensive database of declared supporters and potential donors for a Clinton 2016 candidacy — plans to close down if she announces a bid.
Clinton’s status as an almost universally known political figure and presumptive front-runner means that the usual benefits of an exploratory committee — including a home address for campaign hiring and fundraising — are less relevant, some strategists said. She can afford to wait later than she did during the 2008 cycle and skip the exploratory committee step she took then, these strategists said.
After announcing an exploratory committee in January 2007, Clinton waited until September of that year to form the official Hillary Clinton for President campaign. But there was no real doubt during that time that she would run, and some Democrats saw the exploratory committee as unnecessary and excessively cautious.
Barack Obama generated buzz in political circles by largely dispensing with the exploratory phase. He made what was seen as a bold challenge to Clinton by replacing his three-week-old exploratory committee in February 2007 with the official Obama for America campaign.
Clinton has already said she is thinking about another presidential campaign and that she is likely to make her decision after Jan. 1. She has given no hints in recent public remarks that she has reached a final decision or when she might do so.
Clinton has accepted commercial speaking engagements into March that would be awkward for an official candidate, increasing speculation that she is postponing an announcement until after that date.
Ready for Hillary has scheduled top-dollar fundraisers through March, on the assumption that she will not announce before then, according to a person familiar with the group’s plans.
Clinton is scheduled to give a paid keynote address March 19 to the New York and New Jersey chapter of the American Camp Association, MSNBC reported this week. That’s the furthest ahead on the calendar that Clinton’s plans are known.
Although she could continue to give paid speeches after announcing a presidential bid, strategists who support her candidacy but are not advising her directly said she is highly unlikely to do so. It would be unseemly and open her to criticism for perceived conflicts of interest, the strategists said.
But other strategists said she could easily cancel speeches booked far in the future, or forgo her usual speaking fee of $250,000 or more. Although Clinton also makes appearances that do not earn her money, paid speeches — brokered by an agent — are a significant source of revenue for a public figure who has no regular salary at the moment.
“There is quite a consensus that she would not be giving these paid speeches once she becomes a candidate, and that is appropriate,” said one close Clinton friend who is not directly advising her.