POLITICS: PennAve

Two college students raise eyebrows -- and maybe money -- with Ready For Christie PAC

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Hillary Clinton,New Jersey,2016 Elections,Campaigns,Chris Christie,PennAve,Rebecca Berg,FEC,Super PACs

When Republican Gov. Chris Christie was re-elected in New Jersey earlier this month by a historic margin, the buzz that he would seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 amplified in earnest.

Amid the din, CNN's Jake Tapper suggested that his 300,000 Twitter followers subscribe to the tweets of two super-PACs already getting behind 2016 contenders. Ready for Hillary, launched to advance former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has been on the scene since the beginning of the year. But it's recently been joined by Ready For Christie, a group advocating on behalf of the New Jersey governor.

But, unlike Ready for Hillary, the Democratic PAC now backed by Clinton's top allies, the Ready For Christie PAC is a grassroots effort in the purest sense: a super PAC founded by two college students at Ohio University.

An announcement of Ready For Christie's formation distributed on the morning after Election Day described its founders as “Joe Colby, a multimedia arts professional, and Matt McKnight, a former congressional staffer with a finance background.”

Colby, 21, is a video production major, and McKnight, also 21, is a business major and former staffer for the House clerk. They hail from Ohio and have no particular connections to the national political sphere — but the duo has nonetheless played an outsized role in national politics before.

During the 2012 presidential election, McKnight quickly bought up the URL PaulRyanVP.com after Mitt Romney announced Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as his running mate — and sent the Romney campaign scrambling to determine who was squatting on the Internet property. McKnight, a Romney supporter, gladly handed the site over to the campaign’s control, but he and Colby later received the VIP treatment at a Ryan rally in Ohio as a reward.

Colby was behind a pro-Romney video that drew headlines in the music world for infuriating the band The National, whose song was featured in the video. The band demanded that the video be scrubbed from the web. It was.

In the 2016 presidential election cycle, McKnight and Colby are aiming higher, and registered their super-PAC with the Federal Elections Commission to make their efforts official.

“I know it doesn’t fit the typical super PAC,” Colby acknowledged in a phone interview. “There’s usually strings attached with some big donor, but we’re literally just trying to create a voice for young Americans and other Americans who care about the future of the country.”

So far, Ready for Christie is a super PAC in name and appearances — including web and social media operations — only. Colby and McKnight don’t have specific fundraising goals, Colby said.

Still, the group's familiar-sounding name and the media's insatiable appetite for Christie news in the wake of his re-election have brought Ready to Christie to the attention of national political operatives.

“We've read the coverage about it and so are aware of it in that sense,” said Kevin Roberts, a spokesperson for Christie.

A spokesperson for Ready For Hillary declined to comment.

Although Colby said he’d like to meet Christie one day, he stressed that his immediate focus is to foster support for Christie and help draw him into the presidential contest — and to balance that with his coursework.

“Our parents keep telling us put school first, but we just feel so deeply about this cause and the dialogue that comes with it about the future of the country,” Colby said. “We’ll prioritize and we’ll make it happen with the class schedule.”

McKnight and Colby haven’t yet told their professors of their extracurricular activity “because colleges tend to be pretty liberal,” Colby said.

He added, “I don’t know if that’ll help our grades.”

Correction: A previous version of this article identified Matt McKnight as a former intern for the House clerk. He worked as a staffer.

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