What is a presidential exploratory committee?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren kicked the 2020 White House race into high gear on New Year's Eve when she announced t...

Posted: Jan 4, 2019 3:57 PM
Updated: Jan 4, 2019 3:57 PM

Sen. Elizabeth Warren kicked the 2020 White House race into high gear on New Year's Eve when she announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee.

The announcement made clear that Warren is in the race for the Democratic nomination, but by forming an exploratory committee, she is technically still one step short of officially becoming a presidential candidate.

Campaign finance

Elections (by type)

Elections and campaigns

Elizabeth Warren

Federal Election Commission

Government and public administration

Government organizations - US

Political candidates

Political donations and fundraising

Political Figures - US

Politics

US federal departments and agencies

US Federal elections

US government independent agencies

US Presidential elections

An exploratory committee is a vehicle by which candidates for federal office can "test the waters" of a bid before officially entering a race.

It's a mostly technical distinction that allows candidates to form a committee and begin raising and spending money on limited campaign activities like polling and outreach. And exploratory committees aren't initially required to file reports with the Federal Election Commission, at least until a candidate's bid becomes official by FEC standards.

That happens, according to the FEC, when a candidate engages in "certain activities" that constitute official campaigning -- "making or authorizing any statements that refer to themselves as candidates"; "using general public political advertising to publicize their intention to campaign"; "raising more money than what is reasonably needed to test the waters or amass funds to be used after candidacy is established"; "conducting activities over a protracted period of time or shortly before the election"; or "taking action to qualify for the ballot."

Once a candidate engages in any of those campaign-type activities, they trigger official candidate status, must register as such with the FEC, and begin filing regular financial reports -- reports that include money raised or spent in the "testing the waters" phase. Exploratory committees are subject to the same contribution limits as regular campaigns ($2,700 per-donor per-election).

The real advantage of an exploratory committee is that it allows candidates two swings at the "presidential announcement" news cycle -- first, when they announce their exploratory committee, and again when they make their bid official.

Warren's decision to form her exploratory committee on December 31 also ensures that she will have the entire first quarter of 2019 to begin raising funds for her presidential bid. That will give the Massachusetts senator a head start in a crowded field during the first fundraising period of the 2020 cycle, covering January 1 through March 31. On top of that, Warren enters the fray with already considerable financial advantages, including $12.5 million left over in her Senate campaign account, which she can transfer to her presidential campaign.

Brendan Fischer at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit group focused on campaign laws, explained that the FEC "allows an individual at the testing the waters stage to voluntarily form an 'exploratory committee,' and to voluntarily file reports disclosing contributions and expenditures, but there is no legal obligation to do so until they become a candidate."

"A candidate or potential candidate is under no legal obligation to form an 'exploratory committee'— but a presidential hopeful can create multiple opportunities for news coverage by first announcing the creation of an exploratory committee, and then later announcing their campaign," Fischer said.

In the absence of an exploratory committee, the FEC advises that candidates at least "set up a separate bank account for the deposit of receipts and the payment of expenses," which ultimately must be detailed in the campaign's first financial report after the campaign becomes official.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 35237

Reported Deaths: 2197
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion9978592
Lake3689200
Allen171170
Cass15927
Elkhart138428
St. Joseph130934
Hendricks117773
Hamilton117093
Johnson1117110
Madison59461
Porter54729
Bartholomew52138
Clark51941
LaPorte43424
Howard42934
Tippecanoe4184
Jackson3942
Delaware38540
Shelby37522
Hancock34528
Floyd31940
Boone31635
Vanderburgh2842
Morgan28124
Montgomery24416
Noble23821
Clinton2381
White2389
Decatur22531
Grant21923
Dubois2023
Harrison19622
Henry18412
Vigo1718
Dearborn16921
Monroe16912
Greene16925
Warrick16628
Lawrence16524
Kosciusko1561
Miami1411
Putnam1377
Jennings1314
Orange13022
Marshall1282
Scott1213
Franklin1108
Ripley1086
Daviess9416
LaGrange932
Carroll933
Wayne855
Steuben852
Wabash792
Newton7810
Fayette787
Jasper681
Jay530
Washington511
Clay512
Fulton491
Rush483
Randolph483
Pulaski470
Jefferson461
Whitley433
Starke393
DeKalb371
Sullivan361
Owen341
Perry330
Brown331
Benton320
Wells320
Knox290
Huntington282
Blackford272
Tipton251
Crawford240
Fountain222
Switzerland210
Spencer211
Adams201
Gibson172
Parke170
Posey160
Ohio130
Warren121
Martin120
Vermillion100
Union90
Pike60
Unassigned0175

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 36350

Reported Deaths: 2259
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin5996279
Cuyahoga4581245
Hamilton2721156
Marion267430
Lucas2282252
Pickaway209237
Summit1475180
Mahoning1456186
Butler91932
Columbiana88152
Stark74398
Lorain70259
Montgomery68816
Trumbull58450
Belmont43813
Warren38321
Miami36130
Medina35623
Tuscarawas3524
Ashtabula34035
Delaware34013
Portage32957
Lake30912
Fairfield3017
Wood30047
Clark2987
Geauga29233
Wayne28151
Licking25810
Mercer2177
Clermont2155
Allen21233
Richland2053
Darke18123
Erie17816
Madison1577
Washington11819
Crawford1164
Morrow1071
Ottawa10318
Greene1025
Putnam9314
Sandusky8211
Monroe7914
Auglaize753
Ross732
Hocking705
Jefferson662
Hardin610
Huron601
Williams551
Union521
Muskingum521
Hancock511
Holmes451
Wyandot452
Fulton440
Shelby433
Clinton431
Coshocton410
Fayette400
Logan400
Preble391
Guernsey362
Defiance342
Carroll313
Lawrence300
Champaign281
Brown281
Highland261
Knox251
Seneca212
Vinton212
Ashland200
Perry191
Athens181
Scioto170
Henry160
Paulding140
Jackson140
Harrison100
Adams101
Gallia81
Pike80
Van Wert70
Meigs60
Noble60
Morgan50
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 72°
Angola
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 68°
Huntington
Clear
71° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 71°
Decatur
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 72°
Van Wert
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 72°
Scattered Storms Wednesday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events