Clinton's campaign-in-waiting: One group lies low, one rakes in cash

When Comedy Central's Jon Stewart was trying to pry clues from Hillary Rodham Clinton with career aptitude test Tuesday night, she allowed that she was surprised by the size of the industry that has sprung up around her potential White House plans.

As 2016 approaches, the Hillary machine has not only sprung up but shows no signs of slowing down, having gained steam during her recent book tour. All those iPhone cases, magazine covers, book-length exposes and expanding staffs at various pro-Hillary super PACs are beginning to add up to millions of dollars in spending premised on a second presidential bid.

"If you said, 'I am not running for president,' it all stops," Stewart suggested to Clinton during her appearance on "The Daily Show," pointing to all of those making money speculating about her past, present and future.

"I think a lot of people would lose their jobs if it all stopped," Clinton said with a smile.  "I've been amazed by what a cottage industry it is, and so I kind of expect it would continue. So I'm not really paying a lot of attention to it."

Two of the most prominent pro-Hillary organizations have taken intriguingly different approaches this year to tapping into enthusiasm for her potential candidacy. For one, Ready for Hillary, it is all about raking in the cash. For another, Priorities USA Action, the strategy is to stay decidedly low-profile until after the 2014 election -- reflecting nervousness about the tenuous position of Democrats this year as they face the prospect of losing their Senate majority.

The Ready for Hillary super PAC announced this week that it had raised an additional $2.5 million in the second quarter of this year, bringing its fundraising total to $8.25 million over its 18 months in existence. On its way to amassing a list of supporters that could be sold or rented to a potential Clinton campaign, the group has collected contributions from about 90,000 donors and says it has built a list of more than 2 million supporters.

Most donors have given $100 or less, the group says. Along with dog collars and dog bowls, as well as sturdy 2016 Hillary White House totes, the group is raking in cash by offering  seasonal items like "RFH" Mason jars. (A set of four of those glass jars goes for the symbolic price of $20.16.)

By contrast, the super PAC that could be around for the duration of the 2016 campaign, Priorities USA Action—the likely vehicle for big-dollar donations and television ads to boost a potential Clinton campaign—is keeping a far lower profile this year.

Sources familiar with the group's plans have said that top advisors were worried about distracting attention from the candidacies of vulnerable Democrats if they began an all-out fundraising campaign to get ready for 2016. The group's leaders have instead devoted their efforts to planning and getting organized. They are meeting with donors, for example, but gathering pledges rather than hard dollars — to be ready at whatever point Clinton announces her plans.

Priorities USA Action's latest finances appear to reflect that strategy. In the second quarter, the group raised a mere $1,845. It disbursed about a million dollars this year, with half of that directed toward the House Majority PAC and the Senate Majority PAC, which are working to reelect Democrats this fall. Priorities USA Action gave an additional $100,000 to the Missouri Early Voting Fund, a group working to allow voters to cast absentee ballots in that state.

The group's spokesman, Peter Kauffmann, said it was continuing "to focus our efforts on supporting Democrats in 2014." They reported about $1.48 million in cash on hand.

Twitter: @MaeveReston