The battle for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination quietly began last year — maybe not for the candidates, but for their political groups.
Sarah Palin’s committee paid more than $50,000 for policy advice in the second half of 2009, during which Tim Pawlenty’s and Mike Huckabee’s spent nearly $97,000 combined on fundraising lists. Newt Gingrich’s dropped $585,000 to jet him across the country. Mitt Romney’s doled out $17,500 to New Hampshire pols and causes.
The stated mission of the committees was to boost Republican candidates, rebuild the party and advance conservative policies. But an examination of recently filed finance reports covering the second half of 2009 shows that the groups also are serving to boost their leaders’ viability as White House hopefuls and build political operations that could launch their runs.
Palin’s political action committee paid $21,000 to Kim Daniels, a Maryland lawyer who is an expert on health care “rights of conscience,” for domestic policy advice, and an additional $30,000 to the lobbying and consulting firm of Randy Scheunemann for foreign policy advice. The two helped the former Alaska governor craft a paid speech in Hong Kong in September, which was interpreted as an effort to develop a more polished public policy profile.
In the final six months of last year, the PACs founded by Pawlenty and Huckabee — a governor and a former governor who have been criticized for their lack of national fundraising network — paid $52,000 and $45,000, respectively, to rent or buy fundraising lists.
Meanwhile, Gingrich’s committee spent hundreds of thousands on charter flights to get the former House speaker to speaking engagements across the country.
And the network of PACs led by Romney, the former Massachusetts governor whose presidential ambitions hinge largely on his ability to win New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, in 2009 contributed $17,500 to candidates and committees in the Granite State.
Jason Torchinsky, a Republican campaign finance lawyer, said that almost anyone thinking seriously about running for president in 2012 should have already started some form of political nonprofit.
“Over the last 20 years, this has become the pattern for people thinking about running for president,” said Torchinsky. “It certainly makes things easier if they decide to become a candidate later this year or early next year, because they will have built a donor list and relationships with local officials and party activists, as well as consultants.”
Between July 1 and the beginning of this year, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, Romney’s PAC (Free and Strong America) brought in more than $1.6 million, Palin’s (Sarah PAC) raised nearly $1.4 million, Huckabee’s (Huck PAC) raised $519,000 and Pawlenty’s (Freedom First) raked in nearly $1.3 million, though it’s only been up and running for three months.
But according to a report filed with the Internal Revenue Service, Gingrich’s group, American Solutions for Winning the Future, lapped them all, raising $6.4 million in the second half of the year.
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