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Posted at 5:22 PM ET, 12/ 3/2010

Potential presidential candidates ramp up their PACs

By Aaron Blake

A half-dozen potential presidential candidates began ramping up their political action committees over the past six weeks as they weigh whether to enter a still-empty race for the Republican nomination in 2012.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's PAC and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's PAC both picked up steam in their most recent financial reports and outraised the longtime fundraising leader, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Palin's Sarah PAC and Gingrich's American Solutions PAC pulled in $469,000 and $314,000, respectively, between Oct. 14 and Nov. 22, while Romney's Free and Strong America PAC raised $285,000. (Several Romney-affiliated state-based PACs collected another $273,000).

Palin used that surge in fundraising to dole out about $250,000 in contributions to GOP candidates in the final two weeks of the campaign. She also spent $65,000 giving copies of her new book to donors.

Romney, who has been steadily contributing to lots of candidates throughout the cycle, gave more than $100,000 to various political committees in the final two weeks of the 2010 campaign. Gingrich's PAC sent about $214,000 to candidates, while Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's PAC -- named, appropriately, Haley's PAC -- raised $108,000 and sent $63,000 of it to candidates.

Three other potential 2012 candidates with federal PACs gave virtually nothing down the stretch. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's PAC raised $140,000 and gave less than $4,000 to candidates, Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's PAC raised $125,000 and made just one contribution to a mayoral candidate in Arkansas, and Sen. John Thune (S.D.) raised $66,000 and sent $6,500 to candidates. Pawlenty and Huckabee did donate to candidates regularly throughout the cycle, however, and Thune only recently began to weigh a presidential bid.

Romney's PAC has raised $8.8 million this cycle, compared to $5.4 million for Palin, $3.3 million for Pawlenty, $1.8 million for Huckabee, $900,000 for Barbour, $700,000 for Gingrich, who has collected millions more via his American Solutions 527 group, and $540,000 for Thune. Thune also has a Senate campaign committee with more than $7 million in it at last check, but the report for that committee was not immediately available Friday. He can fund much of his political activity through that committee and can transfer all of that money to a presidential bid if he runs.

Romney and Barbour both spent money on polling firms during the reporting period.

Romney's PAC paid $40,000 for focus groups run by well-known GOP pollster Public Opinion Strategies and used to draft a memo that the PAC posted to its website. A Romney adviser said the campaign has not run a poll yet.

Barbour's PAC, meanwhile, paid nearly $55,000 on Nov. 4 -- two days after the 2010 election -- to the Tarrance Group, another well-regarded Republican pollster. The expense is listed simply as "consulting," and a Barbour adviser didn't respond to a question about whether the expenditure was for polling or something else.

Barbour is still weighing his options, saying he wants to see if there's "somebody who has a better chance of winning than I do."

Romney is widely expected to run. In addition to raising the most money, he has dispensed the most cash to other candidates and state parties -- more than $750,000 in all -- which should bode well as he tries to build support for a presumptive presidential bid.

Palin is second with $471,000, followed by Gingrich at $225,000, Barbour at $222,000, Pawlenty at $197,000 and Thune at $173,000. Huckabee has given the least, at $118,000.

Every PAC except Thune's spent more than it brought in for the fundraising period, a reflection of the gradual ramping up of the presidential campaign. (Without having declared for president, prospective candidates generally use PACs to retain staff and build a campaign.)

Romney's PAC spent $737,000 for the month-plus, much of it on travel, consultants, fundraising events and technology.

Palin shelled out $582,000, paying a smattering of consultants for speechwriting, fundraising, political advice, media, research (not polling) and a pair of somewhat unusual expenditures for "issue consulting" and "coalitions consulting." She also sent money to a number of obscure House candidates with little chance of winning, including opponents of ultra-safe Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas).

Pawlenty spent $303,000, much of it payroll, travel, events and consulting. Huckabee spent $133,000, but didn't pay for much travel. Gingrich spent $347,000, with almost all of it going to contributions or fundraising (he has a 527 that funds most of his other activities). Barbour spent $174,000 on little else besides contributions and his pollster. And Thune spent $63,000, mostly on staff and travel.

By Aaron Blake  | December 3, 2010; 5:22 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012  
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