It was the thrilling-est busywork of Adam Parkhomenko’s young life. Hillary Clinton, still in the Senate, would meet some well-wisher. She’d grab his business card and deliver it to her Friends of Hillary PAC, specifically to Parkhomenko, with “three sentences of notes” about the possible ally/voter/donor.
“She wanted us to save all that information,” says Parkhomenko, breaking between meetings for coffee in downtown D.C. “She wanted to follow up with them. I’d get that all the time. President Clinton did the same thing. They’d hear from people who wanted to be in our world, and they’d take the names. They’d call, they’d ask ‘How’s the database doing?’ Eventually that got shortened. ‘How’s the DBS?’ ”
Talking about data entry makes Parkhomenko wistful. This summer will mark the 10th year of his campaign to elect President Hillary Clinton, a campaign that began when he was in high school. For four of those years, Clinton was secretary of state, barred from the grubby world of politics, Jefferson-Jackson dinners, and databases. The expert prepper lost precious time to prep.
Enter the Ready for Hillary PAC, founded in January, ramping up its activities “in the next two weeks.” It’s a shadow campaign set up at least two years before Clinton will actually decide whether or not to run for president. It’ll raise money, sell merchandise, and build lists until the actual Clinton campaign bursts to life. And then it will change its name to “Ready PAC,” raise money, sell merchandise, and build lists, etc.
“I’ve always looked at Hillary as a brand,” says Parkhomenko, who at age 27 will be the executive director of Ready for Hillary PAC. “That’s been especially true in the last couple of years. It’s a brand I believe in. It’s a brand I want to protect. It’s a brand I want to build.”
There have been presidential draft campaigns long before they were caucuses or primaries or, obviously, PACs. But Clinton’s advantage is so deep and broad that the super PAC looks downright gaudy. By miles, she’s the most popular Democrat in America. In Iowa, whose anti–Iraq War caucus-goers hobbled her 2008 campaign, Clinton leads the field by at least 39 points. In New Hampshire she’s up by 50. In trial heats, in their own home states, she slaughters the strongest Republican candidates.
So Democratic donors are holding out for Hillary. Mother Jones reporter Andrew Kroll has coined a term—the Hillary Clinton Cash Freeze—for the glacier of big money that Andrew Cuomo or Martin O’Malley can’t crack. There is no new Obama, a star who can hack away at the Democratic coalition and take black voters and college kids and people who marched against the Iraq War. The 2016 Democratic nomination process might be the most boring since 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt waltzed into the convention.
But Clinton die-hards are superstitious. “She hasn’t been able to build lists since 2008,” says Allida Black, the 61-year-old Eleanor Roosevelt scholar who co-founded the group. On election night 2012, as President Obama was declaring victory, Black was trading emails with Parkomenko about the possible PAC. (The two of them had worked for the 2008 campaign, then collaborated on VoteBoth, an online effort to put Clinton on Obama’s ticket.) “Just when I was sending my email, swoosh, I got his email!” says Black. “Of course the polls look good, but you need to be ready. Somebody who’s got more money than God could come in and self-finance. Who knows what could happen?”
Ready for Hillary is built to minimize the risk. In 2005, anyone who wanted to defend the Clinton brand (or anyone who wanted to be President Clinton’s ambassador to Barbados) could donate to her PAC. By 2007, they could donate to her campaign. Black and Parkhomenko promise something else—a group that’s both “grassroots” and able to raise endless money, protecting the brand from the inevitable scammers. Last week they brought on the 2008 campaign’s national finance director, Matt Felan. They’d previously locked in a donation from Ann Lewis, a Friends of Hillary veteran.
“We’re going to show people that super PACs can operate in a different way,” says Black. “Every donation over $250, we’re going to make public. You’re going to know exactly who our donors are. Adam and I would never, never do anything that would taint Hillary.”