Is she running or not? Hillary Clinton herself may not know if she'll seek the presidency in 2016. But such uncertainty is not stopping right-wing political operatives, and a host of Republican political action committees and nonprofits in full buck-raking mode are using Clinton's name, face, and the chance of a President Hillary Clinton to fill their own coffers.
The biggest anti-Hillary money-grabber is America Rising, a Republican super-PAC created to research and track Democratic candidates on a year-round basis. Run by Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, America Rising planted its anti-Hillary flag last month with the creation of StopHillary2016.org, a website dedicated to raising cash for America Rising.
For $5, online donors get a Stop Hillary 2016 bumper sticker—before there is anything to stop. And this past week, America Rising hosted a "Stop Hillary"-themed fundraiser in Manhattan. "The Clinton machine is extremely powerful, and we have seen it in action time and time again," Rhoades wrote in an email to supporters. "We need to stop it before it is too late." The group has yet to file any reports on how much it's spent or raised.
Tim Miller, a spokesman for America Rising, would not say how much money the Manhattan event brought in, but he adds, "Absolutely we will continue with Stop Hillary efforts." He says it's never too early to start fundraising to fund opposition research efforts for 2016. "One of the biggest lessons learned from 2012 is that President Obama gained an advantage from having a head start on the GOP competition, and we need to remedy that in 2016," Miller says.
America Rising has the slickest anti-Hillary fundraising operation, but others are looking to cash in on the supposed threat posed by HRC. Stop Hillary PAC, not to be confused with the aforementioned Stop Hillary 2016, seems to be little more than a photo on a website of Clinton looking angry accompanied by an email sign-up and a bright red "DONATE TODAY" button. "Stop Hillary PAC," its site claims, "was created for one reason only—to save America from the destructive far-left, liberal cancer created by Bill and Hillary Clinton that's trying to corrupt America. Stand with Stop Hillary PAC today to take a stand for America's future and STOP Hillary dead in her tracks."
Yet the brave Hillary-stoppers won't say much about who they are. On its website, Stop Hillary PAC lists Colorado state Sen. Ted Harvey as its honorary chairman. Harvey did not respond to requests for comment about his role with the group. Stop Hillary is a hybrid PAC—a plain vanilla political action committee (subject to contribution limits and able to give to candidates) with a super-PAC affiliate (able to take unlimited sums of money to spend on attack ads but barred from contributing to candidates). Formed in May, the group asks for donations as small as $25 up to $1,000 (or enter your own donation), but it has yet to disclose any fundraising and spending figures.
Hillary Clinton has been a conservative lightning rod since at least "HillaryCare," and the paper trail of anti-Hillary PACs is long. There was Americans Against Hillary, founded in 2000, which didn't raise any money or do anything; the Stop-Hillary Political Action Committee set up in 2004, which the Federal Election Commission shut down for failing to file any reports; Americans United Against Hillary created in 2009, which the FEC also shut down for failing to report on its activities; and most recently the Defeat Hillary Super-PAC, created in April and then shuttered a month later by a onetime congressional candidate named Laurence Socci. "I terminated the Defeat Hillary Super PAC a couple of months ago and have no interest in it," Socci wrote in an email, declining to explain the outfit's origins.
Paul Begala, a former aide to President Bill Clinton, isn't surprised that conservatives are targeting Hillary. A favorite line of hers, Begala says, is Eleanor Roosevelt's observation that "every woman in public life needs to develop skin as tough as rhinoceros hide." Begala says, "As a strategist, I know the GOP attacks what it fears. Or, as [former Georgia Gov.] Zell Miller says, a hit dog barks."
The anti-Hillary fundraising effort extends beyond Hillary-specific groups. In May, American Crossroads, the national super-PAC advised by Karl Rove, set its sights on Clinton and the Benghazi tragedy. In a minute-and-a-half-long web video, Crossroads suggested that Clinton bungled her handling of the Benghazi attack and silenced a State Department whistleblower. "Was she part of a cover-up?" the ad asks, ending with a well-placed donation plea.
A PAC called Special Operations Speaks has also zeroed in on the death of four Americans at the US consulate in Benghazi in September 2012, among them Ambassador Chris Stevens. Headed by a former Air Force colonel named Dick Brauer, Special Operations Speaks wants Clinton indicted for lying about what happened in Benghazi. "It's time for former Secretary of State Clinton to be prosecuted for perjury," reads an April 13 email from the group. "Please help us hold their feet to the fire with any contribution you can afford."
The group's campaign filings, though, indicate Special Operations Speaks has done more to pay its consultants and lawyers than bring Clinton "to justice." In the second half of 2012, the group spent $371,839—93 percent of which went to media consultants, fundraising costs, lawyers, graphic artists, and the group's own staff.
Republican outfits like American Crossroads and Special Operations Speaks have drawn some criticism for fundraising off Clinton and Benghazi mere months after the 2012 presidential election. Strangely enough, one of Crossroads' loudest critics was neoconservative Bill Kristol, who edits the right-leaning Weekly Standard magazine. "I do not like the conservative Republican groups putting ads up about Hillary Clinton," he said on Fox News. "This is just fundraising by American Crossroads and these other groups. It's ridiculous!"
But no amount of umbrage, from Democrats or Republicans, will stop the Hillary Clinton fundraising machine. As I write this, an email landed in my inbox written by tea party favorite and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (or his ghost writer) warning of "the damage a Hillary Clinton presidency will do to the America we know and love." She will "continue Obama's assault on free markets." She'll be the "ultimate implementer [of] Obamacare." She'll create "Jimmy Carter-style joblessness." Writing on behalf of Stop Hillary PAC, Arpaio says Clinton "is even closer to the presidency now than ever before." And the way to stop her is by donating $25, $50, $100, or more.
Front page image: Christy Bowe/Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com