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’08 PACs Use Varied Strategies

While maintaining a leadership political action committee has become standard procedure for politicians contemplating presidential bids, how — and if — the dollars raised are doled out continues to vary widely.

An examination of the leadership PACs of 16 politicians mentioned as 2008 candidates revealed expenditures ranging from contributions to state parties to maintaining a staff numbering in the double digits.

“The path to the nomination is a path of good, smart politics and building a team around the country,” said one strategist affiliated with a candidate regularly mentioned for national office. “It is not only how many resources you raise but also how you invest them.”

Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh’s (D-Ind.) All-America PAC has chosen to focus most of the money he’s raised thus far on his own explorations rather than using it to curry favor.

In its first six months of existence, the PAC raked in $1.2 million — roughly $500,000 more than Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s Keeping America’s Promise or HILLPAC, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s leadership account.

“A focus of our year will be to raise money so that we can have resources in the future,” explained Steve Bouchard, director of All America PAC.

Bayh spent $467,000 during the period, the vast majority of which went to All America’s eight full-time staffers and a handful of consultants.

Fairbanks Maslin Maullin and Associates, a firm in which Bayh pollster Paul Maslin is a partner, received $52,500 — a sum that likely covered an Iowa focus group conducted in April among other survey research activities.

Bayh made only one donation from the PAC during the period, sending $5,000 to Pennsylvania state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. (D), who is running against Sen. Rick Santorum (R).

That lone contribution brought grumbles from a few advisers to Bayh’s potential 2008 rivals for the Democratic nomination.

“I don’t know if it sends a good message if the money is just for you,” said one adviser.

Bouchard noted that after the filing period ended, the PAC has given $50,000 in contributions to candidates in the last two weeks alone.

“There are certainly races that will be coming up in the next year and a half that we will play in,” he said. “Part of our reason for being is to support Democratic candidates.”

To date, however, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s Keeping America’s Promise and Clinton’s HILLPAC have given much more generously to other politicians and parties.

KAP doled out $135,000 in direct donations to candidates and state parties — roughly a fifth of the total it raised for the period — and organized fundraisers that brought in another $200,000 for an assortment of other political causes, according to Katherine Lister, a spokeswoman for the group.

“We are focused on 2005 and 2006 races,” Lister said. “Sen. Kerry believes we need to be investing and growing the Democratic Party.”

And, even though Clinton’s primary fundraising focus is on her re-election race in 2006, she still managed to collect more than $700,000 for HILLPAC and make donations to eight Senate colleagues, as well as Casey, from Jan. 1 to June 30.

Clinton also spent heavily from the HILLPAC account during the first six months of the year; the majority of the expenditures were to maintain a 16-person staff, the largest of any of the leadership PACs.

One caveat noted by Clinton loyalists is that all of the compliance work for HILLPAC’s fundraising is handled in-house, meaning that her staff is larger than others who contract out those tasks.

Though Kerry and Clinton showed a significant willingness to use their leadership PACs as a conduit for donations to other candidates, none of the 2008 crop held a candle to the largess of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s (R-Tenn.) Volunteer PAC.

Frist, who had already given the maximum donation to every Senate Republican up for re-election in 2006 last year, helped bundle $499,000 in donations from his donors to Senate candidates during the past six months.

He also raised nearly $2 million in the period, closing June with $1.1 million on hand — roughly the same cash position as Bayh.

“The leader is going to continue to use [VOLPAC] as a vehicle to help candidates across the country,” said Alex Vogel, an adviser to the group. “We are going to max out to all the Senate races and a majority of House races where it matters.”

Frist’s leadership PAC fundraising totals dwarfed those of every other Republican seen as a possible 2008 candidate.

Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel’s Sandhills PAC placed a distant second with $390,000 raised from January to June.

Hagel disbursed $274,000 from the PAC, spending heavily on catering expenses for fundraisers as well as costs related to his travels around the country.

In June alone, Hagel spent more than $3,500 on airline tickets and nearly $9,000 on catering expenses for Sandhills events.

Solutions America, the federal PAC of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Virginia Sen. George Allen’s Good Government for America were the only other two groups to crest $100,000 in fundraising on the Republican side.

Allen, like Clinton, has dedicated most of his time this year to raising dollars for his 2006 race, according to Allen’s chief of staff, Dick Wadhams, though Allen did donate more than $100,000 over the last six months to Senators and House Members.

“He wants to be helpful to Republicans in competitive races but his first consideration is going to be his 2006 re-election campaign,” Wadhams said.