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Does the Clinton pre-campaign survive the real campaign?

Ready for Hillary is considering a number of options for the future, while its plan remains to go "go out of business."
Volunteers for the Ready for Hillary Clinton for President 2016 Super PAC canvas on the campus of George Washington University on June 13, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
Volunteers for the Ready for Hillary Clinton for President 2016 Super PAC canvas on the campus of George Washington University on June 13, 2014 in Washington, DC.

What happens to the Clinton pre-campaign once there’s a real campaign?

For almost two years, allies of Hillary Clinton have been meticulously constructing a sophisticated machine designed to self-destruct as soon as it accomplishes its goal of getting the former secretary of state to run for president.

But with Clinton expected to announced her plans to seek the 2016 Democratic nomination in January, the Ready for Hillary super PAC has made moves recently that could suggest a future -- if a very modest one -- well beyond that.

Last week, Ready for Hillary moved its accounts to a new bank. And on November 21, it plans to convene 400 of its largest donors in New York City for a meeting of its finance council. Raising big money and starting new relationships with a financial institution doesn’t seems like the behavior of an organization that plans to shut down just a couple of months later.

While the plan currently remains for Ready for Hillary to “go out of business” if and when Clinton announces her campaign, sources involved with Ready for Hillary told msnbc that a number of other options for the group have been considered and that nothing has been decided yet.

Seth Bringman, the group's spokesman, declined to comment for the record on the hypothetical scenarios and stressed that the group is focused on helping Democrats in the midterm elections.

The upcoming RFH donor meetup is meant to express gratitude to those who have already cut significant checks to Ready for Hillary, not to raise serious new money, organizers said. But the group does expect checks from new donors after the midterm elections.

From the beginning, Ready for Hillary’s mission has been to build a database of Clinton supporters across the country that can one day be delivered to an official Clinton campaign, if and when it exists.

How RFH passes the torch to a campaign remains a bit unclear, however, as there’s no playbook to follow for an unprecedented effort like Ready for Hillary’s. The group has been organizing Clinton supporters and donors across the county, as well as reaching out to key Democratic political operators and politicans in key states, in order to help build an infrastructure for a future campaign.

It’s also earned the backing of longtime Clinton advisors, like Harold Ickies and Craig Smith, senior Democratic strategists important in other realms of party politics, not to mention the endorsements of numerous national Democratic politicians.

Federal campaign finance laws prohibit a super PAC from donating its list to a Clinton campaign, but it can get around that. First, Ready for Hillary plans to encourage it supporters to join Clinton’s official database, getting as many people as possible to move on their own.

Any names left over will be traded one-for-one with the dormant 2008 Clinton campaign’s list of supporters. Ready for Hillary will give the Clinton campaign the contact information for one person on their list, and in return receive the information from one person on the campaign’s list.

While she ceded the Democratic nomination to rival Barack Obama more than 6 years ago, in June of 2008, Clinton has kept her Friends of Hillary campaign committee alive in order to preserve its valuable list, which is managed by a Democratic consulting firm. Democratic candidates including New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker paid $13,474 to rent Clinton’s list, according to campaign finance records, as has Ready for Hillary itself.

But not everything can be transferred from Ready for Hillary to an official Clinton campaign, including one of its most important assets – a powerful presence on social media.

Hillary Clinton has no official Facebook page, but Ready for Hillary has invested in creating a robust account with more than 2 million “likes” and a massive reach beyond that. The group has linked its Facebook page with Democrats’ file of registered voters, turning the social media platform into a powerful organizing tool. And Facebook now allows groups to target specific message to specific types of users (say, people in Iowa), further increasing its value to a campaign.

Meanwhile, Ready for Hillary’s Twitter account has more than 143,000 thousand followers.

Neither can be transferred to a Clinton campaign under federal campaign finance rules, leaving future of the accounts and that of Ready for Hillary up in the air.

The pages could be transferred to another outside group. Or a rump Ready for Hillary organization could continue to keep the social media pages active and updated, even if they’re just reposting content from Clinton’s official accounts.

Even a dramatically downsized operation like that would require some money, an open bank account, a lawyer, a treasurer, etc., meaning Ready for Hillary could not close its books the day Clinton announces.

A more ambitious, but far less likely scenario, would be for a retooled Ready for Hillary to supplement the official campaign’s field organizing operations and small-dollar donation.

As Democrats discovered in 2012, outside groups that can raise unlimited money and perform redundant functions can be a boon to a campaign.

The other main outside groups groups that make up the Clinton shadow campaign will continue to operate and help an official Clinton campaign, organizers said.

Priorities USA, a super PAC formed to help Obama’s re-election bid in 2012 and which now has switched its allegiance to Clinton, raises big money to fund TV ads. The group has been laying low in deference to Democrats competing in this year’s midterms and likely won’t be fully active until after Clinton declares.

The other main group, Correct the Record, which does rapid response and opposition research, is part of the Democratic super PAC American Bridge, which is involved in dozens of other races. The work already conducted by Correct the Record will continue to inform American Bridge, no matter what happens to the Clinton-specific group.

Steve Rosenthal, a Democratic strategist who ran Americans Coming Together (ACT), a deep-pocketed group that supplement John Kerry’s field organizing in 2004, said keeping a super PAC like Ready for Hillary active could be a smart move to back up an official campaign.

“If Ready for HIllary decides that it’s going to continue to operate, I think it could provide an incredibly valuable asset to a Clinton candidacy,” Rosenthal explained. “You have to try to, as much as you can, follow the lead of the campaign and try to mirror that as best you can.”

No matter what, Ready for Hillary as a concept and brand is likely to survive. The group has already distributed tens of thousands of t-shirts, bumper stickers, yard signs, etc. It’s been so successful that it inspired similarly named groups support Elizabeth Warren and Chris Christie, other potential presidential candidates.

There’s no reason Clinton herself couldn’t adopt the slogan, which Ready for Hillary has invested millions of dollars into promoting.

Officially or not, Ready for Hillary is likely to stick around in some way.