Clinton candidacy building a base bigger than rivals'

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CHICAGO -- 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 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 Ms. 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.

A Federal Election Commission filing last week 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-Clinton super PAC's spending so far has been on digital advertising to build its email 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 a statement. 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 Ellen Tauscher, a former California congresswoman and Clinton undersecretary of state who is helping with fundraising and acting as a strategic adviser. Federal election law prohibits coordination between a candidate and a super PAC, although if Ms. 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."

Mr. 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 email 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.

On the Republican side, Mr. Mele said Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is the only potential presidential candidate who seems to be aggressively building his database of supporters.

Ready for Hillary 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 Ms. Clinton's support on the assumption that she will be the Democratic nominee. The groups opposing Ms. Clinton include the "Stop Hillary PAC" and "Stop Hillary 2016," which is part of the pro-Republican super PAC and led by Matt Rhoades, the campaign manager for Republican Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential bid.

Ms. 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, Ms. 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 Ms. 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."

Mr. Singer said the books and movies about Ms. 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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