NEW YORK — Hillary Rodham Clinton will begin personally courting donors for a super PAC supporting her candidacy, the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has fully embraced the independent groups that can accept unlimited checks from big donors and are already playing a major role in the 2016 race.
Her decision is another escalation in what is expected to be the most expensive presidential contest in history, and it has the potential to transform the balance of power in presidential campaigning, where Republican outside groups have tended to outspend their Democratic counterparts.
Clinton’s allies hope that with her support, the top Democratic super PAC, Priorities USA Action, will raise $200 million to $300 million. That is on par with what the largest Republican organizations, such as the Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads super PAC and its affiliate, spent in 2012.
Clinton is meeting with Priorities USA Action donors on her current fund-raising swing for her campaign, which involves a three-day trip through California. One meeting was to take place in San Francisco on Wednesday and another in Los Angeles on Thursday, according to two people familiar with Clinton’s schedule.
Running for reelection in 2012, President Obama reluctantly endorsed fund-raising by Priorities amid fears that he would be outspent by Republicans, who were more aggressive in using what was then a new vehicle for raising large amounts of money that could be used in support of a campaign but not go directly to it. However, he never appeared at any of the organization’s fund-raising events.
Clinton planned to raise money for Priorities in her campaign but initially delayed doing so because of her desire to carefully pace her campaign’s start, her pledge to make campaign finance reform a key issue, and a dispute about the super PAC’s management.
But in recent weeks her supporters became anxious that she was squandering the enthusiasm generated by her official campaign announcement, and Clinton decided she could no longer delay.
Two leading Republican contenders have delayed officially entering the campaign, devoting their time to personally soliciting money for super PACs set up by their aides. One of them, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, has moved to shift costs such as policy research and voter data maintenance to nonprofits that are formally independent of campaign efforts.
The Clinton campaign and Priorities officials would not confirm the California events, but a campaign official acknowledged Clinton and her aides planned to do what they could to help the super PAC, within the law.
“With some Republican candidates reportedly setting up and outsourcing their entire campaign to super PACs, and the Koch brothers pledging $1 billion alone for the 2016 campaign, Democrats have to have the resources to fight back,” said one Clinton campaign official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to explain the campaign’s thinking. “There is too much at stake for our future for Democrats to unilaterally disarm.”
And in the past week, the delicate transformation of Priorities from a pro-Obama organization to one designed to support Clinton continued; Guy Cecil, a Clinton loyalist, will help oversee it, and Harold M. Ickes, her longtime adviser, has stepped up his involvement in the super PAC.
Super PACs, which grew out of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 and other legal and regulatory shifts, were new and largely untested in the 2012 presidential campaign.