Sen. Hillary Clinton's in-the-red campaign committee has found an innovative way to pay down a slice of its debt -- and is getting help from President Clinton's foundation, among other groups, in making it happen.
The William J. Clinton Foundation this week became the latest outside group to buy access to the vast e-mail list compiled by the New York senator's campaign. Political insiders believe the list is second only to President-elect Barack Obama's in its size and efficiency in reaching potential donors.
Clinton political aides and officials with the foundation confirm that the foundation paid the campaign committee to send a fundraising solicitation Monday. In the e-mail to HillaryClinton.com users, Chelsea Clinton asks for year-end gifts to the foundation, touting its work on HIV/AIDS.
Aides declined to specify what the foundation paid the campaign committee for the list; the figure won't have to be reported publicly until next month. They said outside vendors were consulted to set a "fair market" price for the Clinton Foundation to rent the list, in keeping with federal law.
Since there's little precedent for a national political figures selling access to their lists, estimates of what such an e-mail list would cost vary wildly, and would depend in part on whether a group is trying to reach a full list or targeted segments.
Some experts say buying access to a high-quality batch of several million addresses for a fundraising appeal would easily run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Clinton, still owes $6.3 million to vendors after her unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. She's already written off $13.1 million in personal loans to her campaign, so any money raised now won't go toward paying herself back.
And Clinton is facing a fundraising deadline: Because of federal ethics rules, she won't be allowed to solicit campaign donations once she's confirmed as secretary of state. A Clinton adviser said the e-mail list won't be offered for rent after her confirmation.
Peter Daou, the Clinton campaign's former Internet director who is still an adviser to the Clinton political operation, said renting her e-mail list makes sense for Clinton, given her particular situation and the desire of outside groups to reach committed Clinton donors.
"She's trying to do the right thing, and she's working under a tight time frame," Daou said. "Hillary's list is unique in the sense of the level of passion for her and the level of commitment to her."
Federal law treats e-mail lists like any other commodity owned by a campaign. The same way a campaign can sell its leftover computers or office equipment, it can sell off -- or sell access to -- its e-mail lists.
The only limitation: The price must be in keeping with "fair market value," a definition with built-in flexibility in Federal Election Commission enforcement, said Paul S. Ryan, FEC program director at the Campaign Legal Center.
"As this election cycle demonstrated, e-mail lists are of incredibly high value for fundraising purposes," Ryan said. "As long as fair market value is received, it's generally a lawful transaction."
The list is particularly valuable to the Clinton Foundation, a Clinton aide said, given that it is made up of people who signed up as Clinton supporters, and may also be inclined to give to her husband's causes.
The list is almost certainly the most valuable commodity owned by the Clinton campaign. Its size is kept secret, but close observers believe it to be in the range of 5 million names -- significantly fewer than the 13 million compiled by Obama but more than the 3 million maintained by Sen. John Kerry in his 2004 run for president.
Clinton's online organizing got off to a slower start than Obama's. But her Internet fundraising picked up significantly in the first half of 2008, during her extended primary battle with Obama, representing a rich potential group of donors for Democratic-aligned groups.
Last week, Media Matters for America, a liberal media watchdog group, sent out a fundraising pitch, using the Clinton campaign's e-mail list, signed by longtime Clinton adviser James Carville. Other organizations have also made plans to rent the list, a Clinton aide said.
"Like several other progressive organizations, Media Matters for America paid HillPAC an industry standard fee for a one-time send to their e-mail list encouraging their subscribers to join our list and help hold the media accountable," said J. Jioni Palmer, a spokesman for Media Matters for America. "This is a common practice and thus far we are encouraged by the results."
Media Matters also declined to say how much it paid for access to the list. The Clinton Foundation last week ,for the first time, published a list of its donors, in keeping with a disclosure deal the Clintons struck with Obama to address potential conflicts of interest with if Hillary Clinton became secretary of state.