Clinton’s Unlikely Money Man Invests Adulthood in Her BidJulie Bykowicz
Adam Parkhomenko has spent his adulthood trying to get Hillary Clinton into the White House.
It’s a mission that began when he was a 17-year-old senior at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia. He opposed the re-election of President George W. Bush and decided Clinton could best challenge him.
Parkhomenko set out to draft her into the race. He created a votehillary.org website and in November 2003 flew to Des Moines, Iowa, to sell his own “Hillary for President” buttons and bumper stickers outside a Democratic fundraiser headlined by the then New York senator. To save money, he walked the five miles from the airport to the auditorium, carrying his wares.
Some 10 years later, Parkhomenko’s dedication to the former first lady has taken a more professional turn.
Now a 28-year-old college student, he is the founder and executive director of Ready for Hillary, a super-political action committee that in a year’s time has raised $4 million and engaged 1.6 million supporters in Parkhomenko’s quest to prod Clinton into the 2016 presidential campaign.
He has 15 employees and top Democratic consultants such as Jeremy Bird, the voter-contact strategist who helped Barack Obama topple Clinton in 2008 and win the presidency twice. His super-PAC also has been blessed by some of Clinton’s loyalists, among them President Bill Clinton’s former political director Craig Smith, EMILY’s List founder Ellen Malcolm and billionaire investor George Soros.
“The joke among Adam’s friends is, he’s been training to do this for a decade,” said Sam Arora, 33, a former Clinton campaign aide turned Maryland lawmaker. “Adam has finally tapped into the zeitgeist.”
Parkhomenko’s decade of toil on Clinton’s behalf reflects the loyalty bred by the former first couple, both of whom are renowned for networking and nurturing relationships through personal connections. As Clinton weighs her future, a lengthy roster of former aides and advisers, some dating back to her husband’s 1992 White House run, are eager to help.
“People who have been with Hillary, there’s a personal connection that develops, a relationship. The loyalty factor is important to her,” said Ellen Tauscher, a former congresswoman and undersecretary of state to Clinton.
In the case of Ready for Hillary, Parkhomenko could deliver a vital element to a Clinton campaign that was lacking in the last: young people. A Pew Research Center analysis of 2008 Democratic primary exit polls found Obama, 52, trounced Clinton, 66, among 18 to 29-year-old voters in the multi-state Super Tuesday contests, with a 16-percentage-point advantage.
Bridging that gap is one of Parkhomenko’s goals at the super-PAC, a crossroads he traveled years ago while employed as her campaign aide.
“Once going to work with her, my suspicions were true: She was someone who included my generation at the table, gave them a voice and made an equal playing field where we were able to truly make a difference,” he said.
Clinton has said she will make a decision about her presidential ambitions this year. If she chooses to run, Ready for Hillary wouldn’t be able to coordinate with her, though it could help by selling her campaign its data about supporters or mobilizing them.
“They are an independent entity acting on their own passion,” Nick Merrill, a Clinton spokesman, said in an e-mail. “Their energy and enthusiasm to convince her to run is inspiring, though only she in the end can make that very personal decision.”
That uncertainty is evident at Ready for Hillary’s headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. The office, with boxes of Hillary champagne glasses and T-shirts spilling into the hallways, has a temporary look. “She could say no tomorrow, and we’d all be out of our jobs,” Parkhomenko said.
The super-PAC, from which he paid himself $10,000 in the first six months of 2013, isn’t just a job to him and his devotion to the Clinton cause has won over skeptics, said Tauscher, who gave Ready for Hillary $2,500 on April 4.
The next day, she said, Parkhomenko e-mailed her and asked if they could meet for coffee. She soon agreed to be one of the super-PAC’s advisers, along with Smith and Tracy Sefl, who advised Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign on communications.
“He’s just one of these central-casting versions of what a grassroots political person should be,” Tauscher said. “He’s fresh and young, experienced but not cynical, enthusiastic but not giddy.”
Parkhomenko’s organization’s rose another level in August when Harold Ickes and James Carville, two allies who date back to the Clintons’ first presidential bid, announced they, too, are advising it. Their endorsements elevated Ready for Hillary above other fledgling pro-Clinton super-PACs.
While super-PACs can’t coordinate with or donate to candidates or parties, they can raise and spend unlimited money on ads or other messaging for or against candidates. And they can develop independent get-out-the-vote efforts. Super-PACs must file disclosure reports with the Federal Election Commission.
Parkhomenko and his advisers set a $25,000 limit on individual contributions to the super-PAC, a move he said was meant to emphasize its grassroots nature. That also clears the way for larger fundraising by another potential Clinton group, Priorities USA Action, which is expected to focus on advertising, as it did for Obama in 2012.
Parkhomenko’s first exposure to Clinton was in elementary school, when the first lady visited as a guest of his classmate’s father, Al Eisenberg, then an Arlington County board member. He doesn’t remember anything in particular the first lady had to say that day -- just a positive impression.
Growing up in Virginia, he followed politics as a hobby, collecting memorabilia that includes an autographed $5 bill that President Clinton tipped him for being a golf caddy.
“He was a very unusual 17-year-old,” said his father, Walter Parchomenko, a retired educator. (He uses the Ukrainian spelling.) “Through osmosis, he picked up the values we had in our family, but his extreme commitment and the way he thinks about politics -- I’m always amazed. I sometimes wonder if we mixed up babies at the hospital.”
In the spring of 2003, as he anticipated casting his first vote in a presidential campaign, Parkhomenko scanned the candidate field and was instead drawn to Clinton’s calls “about leaving the country in a better place than her generation found it,” he said.
Not finding an Internet space for her supporters, he started a website of his own: “Draft Hillary.”
That fall, he enrolled in Northern Virginia Community College just as the movement was picking up steam. His website attracted some 100,000 followers, and in September he drove his parents’ 1993 Toyota Camry to New York to sell Clinton gear outside a debate among Democratic presidential contenders -- a group that didn’t include Clinton, who wasn’t running.
Two months later, he made the Des Moines trip, and was featured in a Washington Post Style section story about Clinton loyalists. A framed copy of that article, over which “Thanks for believing! All the best, Hillary Rodham Clinton” is scrawled in black marker, hangs in the super-PAC’s office.
By year’s end, it was clear Clinton couldn’t be persuaded to run for president and Parkhomenko chose another path into her orbit. He showed up at the Washington office of her Senate campaign committees and, with no appointment, waited for hours to talk with Patti Solis Doyle, the political director.
While she wasn’t hiring, Solis Doyle said she couldn’t resist his tenacity and made him an intern. Within a few months, she began paying him, and he put off college and remained with the Clinton political operation through her 2006 Senate re-election.
“I’d like to start a ‘‘Draft Adam for Anything’’ campaign! Thanks for all you do for all of us -- Hillary” reads an autographed photo of Parkhomenko standing with Clinton that she sent him after the campaign.
Parkhomenko followed Solis Doyle into the presidential run in 2008. He was interested in social media, websites and data, Solis Doyle said, and served as her assistant.
“It seems to me he is taking all of the lessons he has learned over the years from various campaigns and putting it into Ready for Hillary,” said Solis Doyle, who isn’t involved in the super-PAC.
Solis Doyle left the Clinton campaign during a shakeup, and Parkhomenko soon followed. In his four years as an official Clinton campaign employee, he made about $60,000, according to FEC reports.
Once outside of the campaign operation, he couldn’t give up his mission. In April 2008, he and Arora, now a Maryland House delegate, formed a political committee called “Vote Both,” which attracted 40,000 supporters through its website and was designed to pressure Obama to pick Clinton as his running mate.
The group raised $7,844, putting the money into Google search terms, some signage and meeting expenses at local coffee and ice cream shops where Arora and Parkhomenko conducted the group’s business on laptops, FEC reports show.
Obama’s selection of Joe Biden as vice president brought an end to the project.
“It was time to try something new,” Parkhomenko said. He was 23.
He became a volunteer police officer, and ran for the Virginia state House in 2009. He hired a small staff, rented an office space, and knocked on so many doors that he wore out two pairs of shoes, his father said. Solis Doyle and Arora helped him meet voters. President Clinton and General Wesley Clark made robocalls on his behalf. He lost.
“Bill and I are so proud of you and the extraordinary campaign you ran,” a June 10, 2009, letter from Hillary Clinton begins. “I hope this setback won’t discourage you from future public service to the community you love so deeply, but something tells me I have nothing to fear.”
Like his own mother, Clinton and Solis Doyle had urged him to finish college about every time they saw him. He completed two years of community college coursework and transferred to George Mason University, where he picked criminology as a major.
Even at school, though, he found himself inside the Clinton realm. During a political science class last year, his professor brought up the Ready for Hillary super-PAC for discussion. Parkhomenko didn’t reveal that he was its founder.
“It was pretty surreal to have people critiquing it right in front of me without knowing,” he said. “But it was encouraging. The comments were all positive. There are lots of Hillary supporters on campus.”
The super-PAC commands most of Parkhomenko’s time. His girlfriend of two years, Kirby Hoag, runs the readyforhillary.com store. This week, Parkhomenko and other Ready for Hillary officials will travel to Iowa as part of their first-birthday celebration.
The fundraising, a combination of $20.16 party-style events aimed at young voters and higher-dollar gatherings steered by the advisers, is rolling in.
Carol Pensky, a Democratic fundraiser of more than two decades who met Parkhomenko a few months earlier at a small Ready for Hillary information session, held an event on Dec. 14 for the group in her Washington home.
Parkhomenko should remember Pensky’s place, she said, recounting a story she shared with donors that night: Years earlier, during a 2006 Clinton Senate re-election fundraiser there, he’d been stationed in her garage, checking coats.