Hillary Clinton is running for president, so when does she plan to tell the world? It’s one of the biggest questions in politics right now. Speculation originally focused on January, before turning to April, and now even July – but why not anytime in between those months?Launching a presidential campaign is like launching a rocket – there’s a ton of careful preparation and you have to wait for a window to open before conditions are right. But instead of planetary movements, a campaign launch window is determined by the cyclical nature of federal elections laws and the power of money in modern American politics.
Every four months, presidential campaigns are required to report their fundraising hauls for the previous quarter to the Federal Election Commission. Campaigns want as much time as possible to show strong results in those end-of-the-quarter reports, so an ideal launch window opens on the first day of every new quarter, and begins closing at the end of that month as it gets closer and closer to the deadline for reporting fundraising figures.
That’s why, when Clinton ruled out a January (the beginning of the first quarter) campaign launch, advisers and outside speculation immediately turned to April, which is the beginning of the second quarter. And when some Clinton allies recently started urging another postponement, speculation immediately turned towards July, the beginning of the third quarter. Launching in, say, June would be malpractice, insiders say, since her campaign would have only half as much time to raise money.
For Republican hopefuls, who are a facing a fluid and crowded presidential primary field, other considerations might be more important than maximizing their first fundraising window.
But for Clinton, who has time on her side and can set the pace of the Democratic primary at her leisure, insiders say the reporting window is critical. She knows all too well just how important a presidential campaign’s first finance report can be.
During her 2008 presidential bid, the first major sign that Clinton was in mortal trouble came from her first fundraising report to the FEC. To great fanfare, her campaign unveiled that they had raked in a whopping $36 million in the first four months since Clinton announced her candidacy in January of 2007. It turned out that only about $20 million of that was actually raised during the previous quarter for the primary campaign, though even that number was still seen as impressive.
But four days later, Obama stunned the political world with his own eye-popping number: $23.5 million. For a first-term senator who, despite all his natural talents, was not given much of a chance when it came to fundraising against the Clinton juggernaut, the number was a sign of unexpected strength that immediately put him on the same level as the far more experienced Clinton.
Voters are hardly paying attention this early in the race, and probably don’t care how much a campaign raises in their first four months of operation, but early fundraising is key to the so-called “invisible primary,” when candidates jockey for money and endorsements. A strong number that surpasses expectations can open new doors (and checkbooks) for an underdog candidate, while a weak number can pull the rug out from under a frontrunner.
Clinton does not want a repeat of 2008 this time around.
Fortunately for Clinton, she has a massive network of eager donors ready to open their checkbooks the moment she gets in the race. Unfortunately for her, even if none of her potential 2016 primary opponents raise anywhere near the money Obama did, the high expectations that come from her prohibitive frontrunner status mean Clinton is under pressure to report an enormous figure in her first haul.
While allies are loath to speculate about specific numbers, some worry that anything less than historic will be seen as a disappointment.