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Posted at 4:15 PM ET, 01/31/2011

What to watch for: Year-end FEC reports

By Aaron Blake

Midnight is the deadline for year-end financial reports from candidates, campaign committees and political action committees.

As Federal Election Commission deadlines go, the year-end reports after an election year are hardly make-or-break. Most candidates haven't begun fundraising in earnest for the next election cycle, and the period only covers a little more than a month, from Nov. 23 to Dec. 31 -- time that is dominated by a transitioning Congress and the holidays, not campaigning.

But here at The Fix, we wouldn't let an FEC day pass without at least a quick look. And there are some valuable things worth keeping an eye on as the reports roll in today/tonight.

Our list of the five most interesting things to keep an eye on in the reports are after the jump.

1. The presidential candidates

For the better part of two years, we've been watching the PACs run by potential GOP presidential candidates for clues about their fundraising prowess and their 2012 intentions. This period will be no different, though it will involve considerably lower sums of money.

Among the reports filed so far, Mitt Romney's Free and Strong America PAC and Sarah Palin's Sarah PAC far outpaced the competition, raising $307,000 and $279,000, respectively. Former Sen. Rick Santorum's (R-Pa.) America's Foundation PAC, meanwhile, turned in a surprisingly strong period, raising $194,000.

The rest didn't raise much. Sen. John Thune's (S.D.) Heartland Values PAC raised $71,000, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty's Freedom First PAC raised $59,000, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee's Huck PAC raised $35,000 and former House speaker Newt Gingrich's American Solutions PAC raised $31,000.

We're still waiting on Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Haley's PAC.

These PACs are the main political fundraising tools for these candidates -- except in the case of Thune, who can raise money for a White House bid through his Senate campaign committee. Thune was unopposed in 2010 and was able to amass $7 million war chest for a potential White House bid.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who is also making noises about a presidential run, raised just $71,000 for her House campaign committee during the period and had $2 million cash on hand.

2. The campaign committees and their debt

We all want to know exactly how much debt Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is inheriting from Michael Steele -- $20 million, anyone? -- but the RNC isn't the only committee that is going to report a big debt heading into 2011.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was nearly $20 million in debt as of its last report, while its GOP counterpart had $12 million in debt. The Democratic National Committee had $15.5 million in debt. None of these committees has filed a year-end report yet.

With another month-plus to sort out their finances, the year-end debt numbers should give us a better picture about just how far in the red these committees are heading into a presidential election cycle.

3. House GOP freshmen

If you're a newly-minted Republican member of Congress in a tough district, there's really no time like the present to start raising money.

Most Republican freshmen who have filed so far didn't raise much money -- about $65,000 on the high end and $1,000 on the low end. When the Democrats picked up a number of seats in 2006 and 2008, there was an emphasis on getting their new members to grow their war chests quickly and scare off tough challenges; we'll see if Republicans can emulate that -- be it un this filing period of the first quarter of 2011.

4. Potential retirees

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) gave himself $1 million in the fourth quarter, which many are taking as a sign that he does not intend to retire. But what about Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.), John Ensign (D-Nev.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii)? Already, three of The Fix's eight most likely retirees have called it quits, and some of the rest have been slow to hit the fundraising circuit.

5. Potential Senate candidates

There areany number of House members who might be looking at a promotion to the Senate in 2012. And there are few indicators that they're getting ready to take the plunge like fundraising. It's still pretty early to be bringing in the big bucks for the next campaign, but that doesn't mean you can't raise some money. Keep an eye on Reps. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) and Sam Graves (R-Mo.).

Also keep an eye on the early entries into 2012 Senate races -- including former Missouri state Treasurer Sarah Steelman (R), Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) and former Montana lieutenant governor candidate Steve Daines (R) -- to see what they can file in their first reports as Senate candidates.

By Aaron Blake  | January 31, 2011; 4:15 PM ET
Categories:  Fundraising  
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