COLUMBIA, S.C. – Sen. Tim Scott on Wednesday launched an exploratory committee for a 2024 GOP presidential bid, a step that comes just shy of making his campaign official.
For months, the South Carolina Republican has been building out the infrastructure of a possible presidential campaign, staffing up his political action committee and making trips to early voting states. He's also honed a stump speech heavy on optimism and his belief in America's “story of redemption.”
No other major presidential hopeful has so far launched an exploratory committee for 2024, though it does have some advantages.
A quick rundown on exploratory committees, how they're used and why:
WHAT IS AN EXPLORATORY COMMITTEE?
An exploratory committee allows someone pondering a political bid to start raising money to support efforts like traveling and polling without officially becoming a candidate. It's not required, but some potential candidates do it.
According to the Federal Election Commission, the mechanism — also known as “testing the waters” — is not required to register or report to the commission, as a candidate's official campaign committee would be.
But any money raised during this time frame has to comply with federal contribution limits and be reported, if a campaign is ultimately launched. And if the process doesn't lead to an official candidacy, the prospective candidate isn't required to disclose any fundraising and spending activity from the exploratory phase.
WHY DO THIS?
Much of it can be a PR move.
By launching an exploratory committee, a potential candidate gets dual waves of media attention — the launch of the committee and then the official candidacy. In what’s already shaping up to be a large GOP field in 2024, that can be important, with a slew of candidates competing for advertising airwaves, media attention and donor dollars.
There are also financial implications. By launching his exploratory committee this week, Scott will have almost the entire second quarter of this year to amass his fundraising, in hopes of showcasing a significant number at its end.
Scott has already proved that he can attract significant fundraising. A pro-Scott super PAC, Opportunity Matters Fund, spent more than $20 million to help Republicans in 2022 and reported $13 million-plus on hand to start 2023. Tech billionaire Larry Ellison has donated at least $30 million to the organization since 2021, according to federal filings.
WHEN IS THE EXPLORATORY PERIOD OVER?
If a person pondering a bid engages in actual campaigning, according to the FEC, the exploratory period has reached its end. As defined by the commission, campaigning includes the person referring to himself or herself as a candidate, using “general public political advertising” to publicize a specific intent to campaign, or raising “more money than what is reasonably needed to test the waters,” though that amount isn't defined.
Campaigning can also technically include informing the media “either directly or through an advisor” that a candidacy will be announced on a certain date.
This mechanism has led to oblique maneuvers by some leading up to an official kickoff, like former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's tease of a “special announcement” — not specifically a campaign — in the weeks before launching her own 2024 presidential bid. She formally announced she would run the day before a planned rally in Charleston.
WHY DOESN'T EVERY POTENTIAL CANDIDATE HAVE ONE?
The use of exploratory committees used to be more customary than it is today.
In 1999, businessman Donald Trump said that he had formed an exploratory committee to help him determine whether he could win the White House as a Reform Party candidate. Trump spiked that bid, though he went on to win the White House as a Republican in 2016 and is seeking the GOP nomination again next year.
A month before his White House launch, then-Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama announced an exploratory committee. Four years later, Republicans Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum had committees of their own before official announcements, while Newt Gingrich thought about it and ultimately just jumped straight into the 2012 race.
Several Democrats who ultimately ran for their party’s 2020 nomination had exploratory efforts first, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro.
But some candidates skip straight into their official campaigns. Hillary Clinton did that for the 2016 election, as did Kamala Harris for 2020 and, this year, Haley.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP