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"Exploratory" committees ... explained

The Washington Post reports: It's this season's must-have political entity: the presidential exploratory committee. The legal equivalent of sticking one toe in the campaign waters, an exploratory committee allows prospective candidates to begin raising money for a campaign while they are still deciding whether to take the plunge.

Obama hand-delivered his committee paperwork to the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday morning, explaining that he would announce a formal decision Feb. 10. The five-page file reveals little beyond who's keeping the books and which bank the campaign is using (Citibank). But it puts his campaign on firm legal ground. Most candidates would prefer not to announce a candidacy this early, but given the massive sums they must raise to compete these days, they need all the time they can get. ...

The word "exploratory" is not in any FEC regulations. Instead, the phase is referred to as "testing the waters," and an exploratory committee is legally just a campaign committee with "exploratory" in its name. When a formal campaign is announced, the candidate usually changes the name of the committee -- for instance, from "Obama Exploratory Committee," as the senator named his new entity, to something like "Obama for President."

"If you want to just test the waters, assess your viability, you don't necessarily have to register a committee with us," said FEC spokesman Robert W. Biersack. "But in exchange, you cannot do certain things: create a war chest, actively campaign, generate material that says 'Vote for me.' " -- Before Running, Candidates Must Explore - washingtonpost.com

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