Newt Gingrich: What's he 'exploring,' anyway?

No presidential exploratory committee is in sight, but Newt Gingrich said Thursday he will explore running for president. He may have just invented a new stage in the long announcement process.

Mike Stewart/AP
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks at a news conference on Thursday, March 3, in Atlanta. Gingrich says he is launching a website to explore a run for president. His wife Callista is seen at right.

Newt Gingrich on Thursday announced that he’s going to explore running for president. He has set up a website,, where donors can give him money to fund this effort.

“We will try very methodically to lay out the framework for what we do next,” said Mr. Gingrich, speaking to reporters at the Georgia state Capitol.

Well, it sounds like the former House speaker has taken a step toward his political future. But we’re not sure exactly how big this step is, or in what direction he’s headed.

IN PICTURES: Will these Republicans run in 2012?

In his brief remarks, Gingrich pointedly stayed away from the word “committee,” as in “presidential exploratory committee.” These are legal entities organized to raise and spend money on stuff such as polls and testing-the-waters travel. Gingrich is not forming such an organization – at least not yet.

Why do things that way? It kind of makes Thursday’s statement an announcement that may have an announcement later about whether he’ll have something further to say at some point.

“Just by him making an announcement to explore, it doesn’t mean that he formally has to establish a committee,” says Dave Levinthal, a campaign finance expert at the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). “But it seems like he’s moving in that direction anyway.”

Gingrich already has established a number of other kinds of political action committees, notes CRP.

Aides have said Gingrich has business entities that he has to make sure are separate from any campaign finance organization, and that untangling all of that may take some time.

But presidential exploratory committees remain fairly lightly regulated. They do not have to file with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) or report donors, for example. So establishing one would not force Gingrich to disclose more about his sources of cash.

However, setting up an organized exploratory organization would get Gingrich another day in news headlines. In that sense, Thursday’s semi-announcement could just be a way of drawing out the media coverage of the possible GOP candidate’s intentions.

That would not be so unusual, by the way. A National Public Radio reporter once referred to the declaring for president process as the “Dance of the Seven Veils” for the coy way candidates move through its stages.

One thing Gingrich cannot do, however, is directly refer to himself as a candidate. Once a White House wannabe does that, the FEC sounds a claxon, and the aspirant has to set up a full campaign committee, with all its reporting and oversight requirements.

That’s one reason Gingrich and others in his situation say so constantly on cable news that they have yet to make up their minds about running.

Another reason, of course, might be that they genuinely aren’t sure yet what they’re going to do.

IN PICTURES: Will these Republicans run in 2012?

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