As Hillary Rodham Clinton jets around the country promoting her memoir “Hard Choices” released this week, a group of prominent Jewish political players has placed bets on the former secretary of state in advance of her possible run for the presidency.
The group, Jewish Americans Ready for Hillary, was announced June 3 as a vehicle to unite Clinton’s Jewish supporters nationally and encourage her to run for president in 2016. It is affiliated with the pro-Clinton super PAC, Ready for Hillary.
“Ours is a community that just knows her really, really well, and so there are already clearly millions of American Jews who support her and many of whom were already signed up for Ready for Hillary,” said Steve Rabinowitz, of the Washington-based public relations firm, Rabinowitz Communications, a founder of the Jewish group. “Now there’s just an opportunity for them to also sign up as Jewish Americans Ready for Hillary.”
Rabinowitz has had a lengthy relationship with the Clintons — playing a critical role in President Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and subsequently serving as the White House director of design and productions.
According to Rabinowitz, the idea to create the group came together a couple of months ago at a breakfast meeting with Dallas trial attorney and immediate past chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council Marc Stanley and political fundraiser Fran Katz Watson of Silver Spring. They then contacted Craig Smith, senior adviser for Ready for Hillary, which welcomed the Jewish group, along with other constituency outreach groups, under Ready for Hillary.
Stanley, a prolific Democratic donor and bundler for President Barack Obama’s campaigns, said Ready for Hillary will offer Clinton a tremendous advantage if she decides to run because of its vast infrastructure to collect names and raise money.
Watson, the other member of the team, is a fundraising heavyweight who served as finance director for AIPAC and the Democratic National Committee. Through her consulting firm, Katz Watson Group, she has raised funds for a who’s who of major politicians, such as former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.).
“This effort isn’t only about money,” Katz Watson said in a news release for Jewish Americans Ready for Hillary. “But it certainly includes money. We want your names, we want your time, we want your enthusiasm, but we also want a little of your money,” she says.
Building lists and infrastructure
The Jewish effort pales in comparison to the two million supporters and 55,000 donors participating in Ready for Hillary. It is by far the largest of the many pro-Clinton PACs registered with the Federal Election Commission with the express purpose of preparing the way for Clinton’s presidential bid. According to Rabinowitz, many of these supporters and donors are Jewish anyway and his group provides another vehicle to focus outreach into the community using various outreach efforts.
“When people see if there are Jews who are undecided about whether or not Hillary should run and if they should support her, then perhaps they’ll see when so many people like them are supporting her, it will persuade them along,” he said.
The Ready for Hillary organization began as a grassroots effort in January 2013. Its latest FEC disclosure filing showed them raising close to $6 million in the 2014 election cycle and spending all but $857,243 on operating costs, such as staff salaries and additional fundraising expenses.
“The goal of Ready for Hillary is fourfold,” said Rachel Schneider, director of Jewish Americans and young Americans programs at Ready for Hillary. “One is to identify supporters and build a list of them; two is to build infrastructure in the states, empower our supporters to volunteer and to take ownership over this work on the ground; three is to amplify Hillary’s message this year; and four is to use the groundswell of support for Hillary to support 2014 candidates.”
According to Schneider, Ready for Hillary’s mission is to encourage Clinton to run for president by building a national system of “grassroots support she will need once she decides to run.” She added that nearly all of the money the group raised so far has been reinvested toward their mission.
This mission includes compiling supporters and donors into a database that would be available for Clinton’s actual election committee if she announces her candidacy.
Last month, Ready for Hillary changed its designation with the FEC, becoming a “Carey committee,” or hybrid PAC. This allows the PAC to accept unlimited donations similar to a super PAC, while at the same time, collect limited donations like a traditional PAC into two separate bank accounts. The unlimited account would be used for traditional super PAC activities, such as running ads on behalf of a candidates or causes without direct collaboration, while the other bank account could be used to directly fund political campaigns of Clinton allies in the 2014 midterm elections and even Clinton herself.
Stop Hillary PAC
Just as Democrats are positioning themselves for a Clinton run, Republicans are positioning themselves to stop her.
Arlington attorney Dan Backer, treasurer of the Stop Hillary PAC, believes that Ready for Hillary is operating with the approval and coordination of her authorized Senate campaign committee, Friends of Hillary. If true, that would violate an FEC rule prohibiting super PACs from coordinating with a candidate’s staff.
Stop Hillary PAC has filed a complaint with the FEC, citing an email list rented by Ready for Hillary from Friends of Hillary, which it used to promote the PAC. The FEC has not ruled on the case, but Ready for Hillary spokesman Seth Bringman told Washington Jewish Week that the organization is meticulously careful with FEC regulations and that his organization paid fair market value for use of the list — something that is common for super PACs.
“It does not seem as though that this is contrary to rules but it does sort of bring up that there are a lot of ways that super PACs can benefit from the expertise and relationships of campaign committees perfectly legally,” said Sarah Bryner, research director at the Center for Responsive Politics. “That sort of begs the question of whether or not these groups are really operating independently, but in this case it does seem as if they’re behaving.”
Besides swapping email lists, today’s networks of PACs, super PACs and hybrid PACs create a complex and confusing landscape for political campaign financing. Even without direct coordination, there are many legal ways for candidates and their staff to direct their efforts. One way, according to Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, is to make a campaign’s outreach public.
“You can put all the information out there and say, ‘Hey, look at this, wink, wink,’ “ Kondik said. “Others who have similar interests may pay attention to this and maybe want to do something related. So I don’t think it’s direct coordination but the information is presented in a way that it’s obvious to anyone what’s going.”
Rabinowitz brushed off the criticism as the usual Republican attacks he expects on Clinton.
“Well first, I can’t think of any Hillary detractors on Israel or Iran who aren’t either hard-core partisan Republicans or longtime Obama and Clinton bashers,” he said. “Yes, there are definitely a handful of Obama and Clinton bashers out there in our community who continue to bash her. She could do no right.”
Yet, he points out that a large majority of American Jews voted to re-elect the president — a base of support he believes will remain intact for Clinton.