The Hillary Clinton–Industrial Complex

She hasn't announced she's running and the election is years away, but dozens of PACs, super PACs, and websites—often with unclear goals or strategies—are springing up.
Yuri Gripas/Reuters

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 said.

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 non-candidate, 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.)

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Alex Seitz-Wald is a reporter for National Journal

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