An Ecosystem of Super PACs Forms Around Hillary Clinton, Some With Dubious Goals

Both for and against her, groups are sprouting up more than two years in advance.

Stacks of 'Ready For Hillary' bumper stickers are seen at the Super PAC offices working on behalf of undeclared US Presidential candidate and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton July 11, 2013 in a shopping center office in Alexandria, Virginia. The 'Ready For Hillary' Super PAC has already mailed out 50,000 'Ready For Hillary' bumper stickers to potential financial donors. The Super PAC is sending out I-Phone buttons, lapel buttons, bumper stickers, t-shirts, hats, and other promotional items.
National Journal
Alex Seitz-Wald
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Alex Seitz-Wald
March 19, 2014, 3:20 p.m.

The pro­spect of a Hil­lary Clin­ton pres­id­en­tial can­did­acy hasn’t just fostered the net­work of se­mi­of­fi­cial out­side groups that com­prise her shad­ow cam­paign in wait­ing. Clin­ton fever has also led to a pro­lif­er­a­tion of smal­ler groups and web­sites that hope to cap­it­al­ize on Clin­ton’s name, but may not help her get to the White House.

More than two and a half years out from the 2016 elec­tion, there are no few­er than nine PACs or su­per PACs that in­clude Clin­ton’s name in their own, ac­cord­ing to Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion re­cords, on top of dozens of Hil­lary-themed web­sites. Some are ser­i­ous ef­forts with real money and pro­fes­sion­al staffs; oth­ers seem well-in­ten­tioned, but polit­ic­ally un­soph­ist­ic­ated; more still seem out make money or have mis­sions and strategies too neb­u­lous to com­pre­hend.

It can hard to keep track of them all. Bey­ond Ready for Hil­lary, the grass­roots group sup­por­ted by Clin­ton al­lies, there’s Hil­lary 2016, the Hil­lary Clin­ton Su­per PAC, and Hil­lary FTW (For the Win).

It’s nev­er been easi­er to set up an FEC com­mit­tee, and there’s a sense of in­ev­it­ab­il­ity around a po­ten­tial Clin­ton can­did­acy, says Sheila Krum­holz, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics. “So nat­ur­ally this in­spires both ser­i­ous party act­iv­ists and the huck­sters that are out to make an easy buck off her name and the pub­lic’s con­fu­sion about the pro­lif­er­a­tion of sites,” Krum­holz says. “The bot­tom line is: It is and al­ways has been donor be­ware.”

This week, an­oth­er su­per PAC was ad­ded to the mix when Hil­lary PAC launched. Sam De­skin, a Los Angeles law­yer who star­ted the new PAC, says that while he re­spects oth­er pro-Hil­lary groups, he wants to do something more — though what ex­actly that is re­mains a bit hazy at the mo­ment. “Ready for Hil­lary is im­port­ant, I get it. They’re a very big or­gan­iz­a­tion with a lot of Clin­ton friends in there, but there needs to be someone who fights against ex­trem­ists in Con­gress,” De­skin told Na­tion­al Journ­al.

The group’s Face­book page — “Hil­lary Clin­ton for Pres­id­ent 2016,” which star­ted way back in April 2012 — has more than 380,000 “likes.” Hil­lary PAC partnered with the spe­cial-ef­fects com­pany be­hind Team Amer­ica: World Po­lice to pro­duce a com­ic­al Web video that riffs on the in­tro­duc­tion to Mis­sion Im­possible, warn­ing that ex­trem­ist tea parti­ers have taken over Con­gress.

So what sep­ar­ates his groups from oth­er pro-Hil­lary ef­forts? De­skin says his group will work to make Con­gress more mod­er­ate. How? There will be more funny videos and pos­sibly oth­er activ­it­ies, de­pend­ing on fun­drais­ing, he said. De­skin also said the group has ex­per­i­enced polit­ic­al ad­visers work­ing with it, but de­clined to name them. “I think we play a role. That role needs to be defined to the people,” he ex­plained.

And those are just the su­per PACs sup­port­ing Clin­ton. Oth­ers have been cre­ated to fight the non­can­did­ate, like Dick Mor­ris’s Just Say No to Hil­lary PAC. The former Clin­ton White House ad­viser cum con­ser­vat­ive polit­ic­al com­ment­at­or’s name doesn’t ap­pear on the or­gan­iz­a­tion’s cam­paign fin­ance doc­u­ments, and neither Mor­ris nor the group’s treas­urer re­spon­ded to in­quir­ies. As of its latest FEC fil­ing, the su­per PAC had raised $0.

An­oth­er, the De­feat Hil­lary Su­per PAC, already came and went, ter­min­at­ing it­self in April of last year, ac­cord­ing to re­cords.

Yet one more anti-Clin­ton group, The Clin­ton Pro­ject, pro­claims on its web­site that it is “the only thing stand­ing between Hil­lary and the White House.” It sells anti-Hil­lary mugs and shirts, and hosts a game that en­cour­ages vis­it­ors to slap a di­git­al ver­sion of former first lady. It failed to file a year-end re­port with the FEC, earn­ing a warn­ing that it could face pen­al­ties if it doesn’t rec­ti­fy the er­ror. (The Clin­ton Pro­ject’s treas­urer did not re­spond to an in­quiry.)

The Stop Hil­lary PAC, on the oth­er hand, raised more than $270,000 last year and has a full team of pro­fes­sion­als work­ing on its be­half. “There are oth­er PACs out there that are try­ing to make some noise, maybe make a buck. We’re not try­ing to do that”¦ It’s safe to say ours is the most prom­in­ent,” said Gar­rett Mar­quis, a spokes­man for the group, which views it­self as the in­verse to Ready for Hil­lary.

Some of the pro-Hil­lary groups, however, seem less act­ive. Hil­lary FTW has a slick-look­ing web­site and a Face­book page with over 3,500 “likes,” but has so far ob­tained only six sig­na­tures for its pe­ti­tion and raised $0 as of its latest FEC re­port. (Pacheco did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.)

Some sell gear. Hil­laryC­lin­, a web­site cur­rently run as an LLC that says it will soon file as a polit­ic­al group, fea­tures a wide range of ap­par­el, from Hil­lary t-shirts to bobble­heads and mugs. A spokes­per­son told TIME‘s Zeke Miller than the group’s goal “simply is to sup­port Hil­lary Clin­ton.”

That group is not to be con­fused with a new su­per PAC called Hil­lary 2016. It just filed its ini­tial pa­per­work with the FEC last month, and of­fi­cials with the group told Na­tion­al Journ­al that it would be re­leas­ing more in­form­a­tion about its plans to the press “in the up­com­ing weeks.”

Then there’s Time for Hil­lary, a su­per PAC and web­site that has at­trac­ted cri­ti­cism from the Cen­ter for Pub­lic In­teg­rity for be­ing run by a Cali­for­nia man with a his­tory of al­legedly shady busi­ness tac­tics. (Time for Hil­lary also did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.)

On top of the su­per PACs, people have clamored to pur­chase Clin­ton-themed web­site do­mains. And they only seem to be pro­lif­er­at­ing at a faster rate as we get closer to the elec­tion, ac­cord­ing to data provided to Na­tion­al Journ­al by GoDaddy, a Web ser­vice that re­gisters do­main names.

The com­pany re­gistered 63 per­cent more Hil­lary Clin­ton-re­lated do­main names in the first two months of 2014 than it did in the last two months of 2013, ac­cord­ing to Eliza­beth Driscoll, GoDaddy’s vice pres­id­ent of pub­lic re­la­tions. And Janu­ary 2014 saw a 23 per­cent jump over the same month a year ago. “We looked at the name against a sum­mary of key words like pres­id­ent, cam­paign, 2016, etc…,” Driscoll says.

So far, the se­mi­of­fi­cial Clin­ton groups don’t seem con­cerned about con­fu­sion. But giv­en the pro­lif­er­a­tion of groups with sim­il­ar names, it’s reas­on­able to sus­pect that an un­in­formed Web surfer could land on the web­site of Time for Hil­lary and think they’re at Ready for Hil­lary.

There’s a long his­tory of small-time en­tre­pren­eurs mak­ing a buck off pop­u­lar politi­cians. The Right es­pe­cially has long been plagued by “scam PACs,” which hap­pily sep­ar­ate un­soph­ist­ic­ated donors from their money and then spend it on salar­ies on con­sult­ing fees for their dir­ect­ors, and not much else.

But — like al­most all things Hil­lary 2016 — the eco­sys­tem form­ing around her po­ten­tial bid is un­usu­al in its as­ton­ish­ing pre­ma­tur­ity and scale.

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