The post below was originally published on my previous site on August 12, 2014. Joe Hogsett has since been elected Mayor of Indianapolis, but you already knew that.
Hey Hoosiers, welcome to Indiana Explained, where we rip something from the headlines and explain it Indiana-style.
Today’s topic: Exploratory Committees.
Exploratory Committees are like cicadas. Most of the time we don’t even think about them, but then every few summers they are everywhere. And you’re literally peeling Exploratory Committee shells off your trees and putting them on your girlfriend’s knee to gross her out.
It’s something that candidates of both major political parties engage in, so it’s worth, er, exploring.
This year’s Exploratory Committee award goes to Joe Hogsett, who has expertly used his consideration of running for Mayor of Indianapolis to get more air time than the Apparently Kid.
“Apparently, I’ll make up my mind after we watch the Powerball.” -Joe Hogsett
Hogsett was a U.S. Attorney, and he wasn’t allowed to talk about running for Mayor of Indianapolis until he left that job. So he announced he was taking a job as a partner in a law firm. And ON THE DAY HE STARTED his new job, he announced an exploratory committee for his next job. Kids, don’t try this at home.
Exploratory committees do exist, from a legal standpoint. They aren’t just another thing made up by people running for office. Indeed, they were made up by people who already HAD run for office and got elected.
On the federal level, there’s more significance there. A presidential candidate who is in the exploratory phase doesn’t have to report contributions or expenditures while testing the waters. They only have to do that when the exploring is done.
Here in Indiana, these committees are EINO — Exploratory In Name Only. You raise money just as you would otherwise. You report at the end of the year. The only real difference is that on your required paperwork, you don’t have to list the office you’re exploring.
Side note: my favorite explorer of all time is Juan Ponce de Leon. The Spaniard is often associated with searching for the Fountain of Youth, but he was actually the first European to set foot in Florida. Of course, his first expedition went straight to Disney World.
The name Ponce de Leon actually comes from the Spanish “Ponce” meaning “Socks” and “de Leon” which means “With Sandals“.
But I’m getting off the topic here. The true reason for Exploratory Committees are to make news. NPR’s Ron Elving called declaring for President a “Dance of the Seven Veils” back in 2006.
Some of the most skillful handlers like to leak word that their candidate is testing the waters, then leak word that he or she is thinking about forming an exploratory committee. Additional “news” can be made when the same candidate actually forms such a committee and registers with the Federal Election Commission. Yet a fourth round of attention may be generated when the word exploratory gets dropped from the committee filing.
In short, Exploratory Committees are the ultimate attention-getting device. Like my two-year-old walking to the cookie cabinet, and looking back at me as if to say, “Well…are you going to stop me?”
The problem is that Exploratory Committees only garner media attention when you are a big name running for a significant office. On this list of Exploratory Committee filings in Marion County, you’ll notice the other two lesser-known Democratic candidates for mayor skipped right over this step (the website hasn’t been updated since July 24, meaning Hogsett’s paperwork isn’t yet posted). And you likely never saw a story on the news about Exploratory Committees for Beech Grove judge.
Perhaps voters would be better served if Exploratory Committees didn’t exist at all? But as T.S. Eliot once wrote, “The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started.”
Whatever that means.