Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich is taking the carefully choreographed process of launching a presidential campaign to a new level this year.
After tiptoeing toward
forming an "exploratory" committee earlier this month, Gingrich instead revealed only that he had created an exploratory website. In fact, NewtExplore2012.com is little more than a fundraising tool. As Politics Daily's Walter Shapiro
put it, the on again/off again roll-out had "all the grace of a suitcase falling down a flight of stairs."
But that was only the beginning. In a conference call this week to former aides, Gingrich said that if
he runs, he will announce his campaign in front of historic Independence Hall in Philadelphia in May, according to CNN
and the Associated Press
. And he is leaning toward "yes," those involved in the call said. Gingrich also reportedly said he couldn't go into much detail "for legal reasons." Whether that Philly announcement will be a full-throated declaration of candidacy, or simply the official formation of an exploratory committee is not clear.
What exactly is an exploratory committee?
The Federal Election Commission
notes that before deciding for sure on a national campaign, a would-be candidate "may first want to 'test the waters' -- that is, explore the feasibility" of running. That could entail traveling the country to assess public support, and just as importantly to determine if sufficient money can be raised. "An individual who merely conducts selected testing-the-waters activities does not have to register or report as a candidate even if the individual raises or spends more than $5,000," the FEC says, referring to the dollar threshold that requires filing as a "candidate."
Once that hopeful person -- with toe in water -- raises or spends more money than what is "reasonably needed" for a test run, or refers to himself as a candidate, or authorizes advertising, that person becomes a "candidate" in the eyes of the FEC -- even if still technically in the exploratory phase.
For Newt Gingrich, terms like "exploratory committee" are not trivial, since even the run-up to a candidacy forces the prospects to sort out their finances and be careful to comply with complicated campaign finance requirements -- the aforementioned "legal reasons," including documenting who is paying for what.
That is apparently why Gingrich, who presides over a network of non-profits and commercial enterprises, seemed to pull back from forming an exploratory committee earlier this month and merely made mini-news with his website. But even the prelims -- the website asking for donations -- will fall under FEC purview if he decides to make a real go of it in May.
Despite the complexities, the step-by-step process leading up to a full-blown presidential candidacy has big benefits -- mainly free media attention. Each announcement along the way will be treated as an Event by reporters eager for the launch of the late-starting 2012 presidential campaign.
Folo Tom Diemer on Twitter http://twitter.com/tomdiemer