A collection of New Jersey's highest-ranking Democratic fundraisers, state politicians, and political operatives convened in Newark on Thursday night for about two hours to discuss a plan to be "the first state out of the gate" for Hillary Clinton.
The powerful group — a gathering of about 35 state leaders who make up the core of New Jersey's Democratic fundraising infrastructure — was described by a key attendee as a "pre-organizing meeting," and an early iteration of what would be Clinton's state finance committee, should she decide to run for president.
The plan discussed by the Democrats: to deliver $5 to $10 million to Clinton on day one. As soon as she creates a vehicle for contributions, whether a preliminary exploratory committee or an actual campaign, the source said, "New Jersey would have significant commitments already lined up and ready to go."
There is no other state with a known working group comparable to the local Democrats in New Jersey readying funds for a possible Clinton bid.
Michael Kempner, the head of a national PR firm based in New Jersey's Bergen County and a major Democratic donor, organized the gathering. Kempner raised millions for President Obama's reelection, placing him in the very top tier of Democratic "bundlers," or raisers. He is also a longtime Clinton supporter.
Kempner has ties to the super PAC, Priorities USA, which is poised to support Clinton. But the plan of the group that assembled on Thursday night is to raise money for Clinton herself, not an outside group.
Josh Gottheimer, a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton, co-hosted with Kempner.
In the last presidential cycle, New Jersey was a top-spending state, ranking 14th overall. And with its proximity to New York City and Philadelphia, the state is home to the some of the country's biggest donors and fundraisers.
The existence of the gathering was first reported on Friday by PolitickerNJ. But the scope of the meeting and the plan for the finance committee in-waiting, which has been dubbed "New Jersey for Hillary," was previously undisclosed.
The gathering, and the plans to make New Jersey the "first state out of the gate," as the source put it, was not sanctioned by or coordinated with Clinton. But the group is moving forward under the widely held assumption that Clinton will run.
The group of 35 has plans to meet again. The key attendee stressed the discussion was a "pre-organizing conversation," but the person also said that Democrats would start the work of gathering commitments from donors in the next month.
The planning group met at the Robert Treat Hotel in downtown Newark.
The state directors to both Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, the two U.S. senators from New Jersey, attended. And Booker's longtime political confidant, Elnardo Webster, was also there. Neither senator has endorsed a Clinton run.
The representation from Booker's camp in particular was a signal that the former mayor of Newark is not considering his own run for president in 2016.
Other Democrats in the room included George Norcross III, the South Jersey power broker; Steve Fulop, the mayor of Jersey City; Steve Sweeney, the president of the state Senate; Maggie Moran, a former top aide to Jon Corzine; Rob Andrews, the former congressman; John Wisniewski, a state assembly leader; and Pamela Miller, an Obama fundraiser.
"This reception was incredibly positive," said the source in the room.
"People are ready to go."
Ruby Cramer is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Ruby Cramer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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