Chafee not yet fundraising for ‘very likely’ White House bid

In this December 2014 file photo, then-Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee responds to questions during an interview with The Associated Press in his office in Providence, R.I.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee plans to announce his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination in a few weeks, but he’s not actively raising money or putting together the infrastructure required to pay for a credible White House bid.

In the month since Chafee said he was forming a campaign exploratory committee, he’s made trips to the early primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina, made calls to activists in the first caucus state of Iowa and done several rounds of interviews with reporters.

But a dozen longtime Chafee friends, former staffers and donors told The Associated Press they’ve either yet to hear from him, or that when they did, he did not discuss fundraising or talk with them about how he would raise the money needed to wage a viable campaign.

“I was surprised not to have heard from either him or someone in his circle working on this potential campaign. I’ve known him for a very long while,” said Bill Vareika, a gallery owner from Newport who has been a major supporter of Chafee’s in the past and whose son was Chafee’s speechwriter.

In the meantime, Vareika said, the campaign of the front-runner in the Democratic race, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has called to ask for his support.

“I love Linc. I wish him well,” Vareika said. “He must have a strategy in mind. He needs support beyond Rhode Island to take on that campaign.”

In an interview Thursday, Chafee described his early approach to his “very, very likely” campaign as “just wearing down the shoe leather.” He said he still needs to figure out how to comply with federal campaign finance regulations, record any donations he does receive via his website and find someone to serve as his campaign’s treasurer.

“The time will come, but it’s not now,” Chafee said of his plans to fundraise. “Perhaps after I announce.”

The approach is, at a minimum, unusual for a candidate who has the kind of political resume — Chafee served in both the U.S. Senate and as Rhode Island’s governor — to mount a serious campaign. Most of the candidates and likely candidates for president in 2016 are actively and aggressively raising money and have long since hired at least some core staff.

Clinton, for example, is hosting a conference this week in New York for donors who have raised at least $27,000 for her campaign. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders raised $3 million in the first few days after announcing that he was in race.

“I’m doing this with a view that this is a long, long marathon, and I do not want to incur high monthly expenses at this early stage,” Chafee said.

Chafee surprised many when he announced plans to explore a run. He said he’s driven by his belief the next president should not be someone who supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and he has criticized Clinton for her vote as a member of the Senate to authorize the war.

Then a Republican, Chafee was the lone GOP senator to vote against the invasion. He lost his bid for re-election in 2006, ran for governor in 2010 with no party backing and later joined the Democratic Party.

He decided against seeking a second term, avoiding an expensive campaign that would have pitted him against two popular Democrats. Chafee has a well-known distaste for fundraising and has relied on family money to wage successful campaigns in the past. In Chafee’s 2010 run for governor, he loaned himself $1.6 million while raising just over $900,000 from donors.

Chafee likes to tell the story of former Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire, who refused to take donations in his later terms in office and spent just $145 on his re-election campaign in 1982, which he won with 64 percent of the vote.

But Proxmire was a longtime, popular senator seeking re-election to statewide office, not a former governor from the nation’s smallest state considering a national campaign as a relative newcomer to the Democratic Party. The cost of running a successful bid in 2016 is widely expected to top $1 billion.

Sam Reid, who directed Chafee’s Washington office when he was governor and who has held several fundraisers for him in the past, said he saw Chafee in Washington two weeks ago and the topic of fundraising never came up.

“We spoke about policy, we spoke about what he would hope to do as president if he were to announce his run, we spoke about the other candidates who have announced from both parties,” Reid said.