The 'Draft Elizabeth Warren' Movement Is About to Get Help From New Campaign Finance Rules

The FEC is preparing guidelines that would give draft groups more flexibility in how they raise money and on how they spend it.

The Federal Election Commission is poised to make life easier this week for the "draft Elizabeth Warren" movement and other groups hoping to coax candidates into election with a ready-made bundle of campaign cash.

An FEC panel is scheduled to vote Thursday on a series of draft guidelines that would give such groups more freedom in how they raise money and in how they spend that money later—including in instances where their candidate refuses to be drafted.

The current interpretation of the rules allows draft groups to raise funds for a specific prospective candidate, which would then be given to that candidate if he or she decides to run before the filing deadline for the race the draft group identified.

Under the guidelines expected to be approved Thursday, the groups will have more options on what to do if their candidate doesn't run. The rules would allow a draft group to promise would-be donors that if their preferred candidate doesn't enter the race, the money would then go to a second candidate. For example, they could say that if Warren doesn't run, the money would instead go to Sen. Bernie Sanders. The new rules would also give the groups more leeway to set deadlines for their candidates to enter the race.

The new rules would also allow groups to raise money for a candidate who fits certain criteria. Specifically, a group could raise funds for "the first female president," which would go to the eventual party nominee should the nomination go to a woman.

The FEC is revisiting its rules after representatives for ActBlue, a major Democratic online fundraising platform, wrote to the panel last month asking for more clarity on the guidelines for draft movements.

While Ready for Warren and MoveOn are already raising money for the "Draft Warren" effort, the new FEC guidelines would give them more freedom to determine what happens to the money if Warren maintains she's not running—a concept that gained increasing importance after Tuesday following the release of a Fortune interview in which Warren stated yet again (and in the strongest terms yet) that she is not running for president in 2016. Warren's backers have used the first-term senator's verb tense—she's frequently said, "I am not running for president," not "I will not run for president"—as a sign of hope that she will reconsider.

Still, despite Warren's seemingly more definitive statement to Fortune, progressive groups don't see her comments as a sign of defeat. "Sen. Warren has been clear for years that she isn't planning on running," said a statement from MoveOn and Democracy for America. "If she were running, there wouldn't be a need for a draft effort."

The movement to draft Warren into the 2016 race began last summer with the launch of Ready for Warren, and gained steam in December when MoveOn and Democracy for America joined the effort. The groups have collected 200,000 signatures and pledged to raise $1 million to help coax Warren into the race—a move that mirrors the way Warren decided to run for Senate in 2012. That year, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee raised $100,000 in a draft movement for Warren—giving her a substantial starting fund to take on then-incumbent Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts.

The movement to draft Warren is the most high-profile 2016 example thus far, but the new rules would allow more groups to consider new and different types of draft movements in the future.

"There is a really vibrant group right now that wants to draft Elizabeth Warren "¦ I could see how it wouldn't be helpful to some of their agenda to have to wait until next year [for the official filing deadline] to figure out whether Elizabeth Warren is running," said ActBlue Executive Director Erin Hill, adding that the FEC's proposed new guidelines on the issue "might give them more options."

Officials for Ready for Warren and MoveOn did not respond to a request for comment on current fundraising practices.