Road to 2012 Is Paved With PAC Donations

Posted February 8, 2010 at 5:43pm

It’s never too early to line up support for a presidential run, so it’s not surprising that several possible 2012 Republican contenders are using their political action committees to dole out large amounts of cash to an array of GOP Members and candidates this cycle.

Leading the way in largesse are South Dakota Sen. John Thune’s Heartland Values PAC, which made $118,000 in contributions to candidates in 2009, all to Republican Senators or would-be Senators running in 2010, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC, which gave $87,500 to federal and state candidates last year.

Romney also gave $5,000 each to the PACs of the California Republican Assembly and Massachusetts Republican State Congressional Committee, while Thune gave $5,000 to the South Dakota Republican Party and $15,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Romney, whose PAC raised $3.6 million in 2009, topping the field of potential 2012 candidates, also spread his cash around to the widest array of Republican recipients, including:

• House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas)

• Vulnerable incumbents such as Reps. Dan Lungren (Calif.) and Charlie Dent (Pa.)

• Open-seat Senate candidates Reps. Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Mike Castle (Del.)

• Rock-star special election candidates such as newly sworn-in Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.) and New York Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman

• Nonfederal 2009 campaigns including those of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling

Also notable — Romney made only two donations to Members of Congress who endorsed his 2008 presidential run. The rest went to those who backed his primary rivals, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani or Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), or who stayed out of the primary entirely.

Despite her arms-length embrace of Washington, D.C., former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin made $43,500 in contributions from SarahPAC to Congressional incumbents and a few open-seat candidates, including well-established GOP Members such as Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and McCain, with whom she shared the 2008 presidential ticket, as well as Rep. Roy Blunt (Mo.), who is running for Senate. She also gave $2,500 each to potential 2012 rivals Thune and Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.).

SarahPAC donated $8,500 to state office candidates such as McDonnell and Ohio gubernatorial candidate John Kasich (R).

In keeping with his grass-roots campaign approach, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) gave more to state candidates than federal candidates via his Huck PAC in 2009. His total Congressional contributions — almost all to challengers and open-seat candidates — was just $19,000, but he gave $22,500 to candidates in state races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and the state legislature.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) made $16,800 in political contributions through his Freedom First PAC, which he just opened in the fall of 2009. Of its seven donations, three went to Minnesota House Republicans, two to GOP special election candidates Brown and Hoffman, and one to Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), whom Democrats are trying to target in November.

Pawlenty spokesman Alex Conant said Freedom First is off to a good start.

“We were able to support a handful candidates, including Scott Brown, and will support many more going forward,” Conant said. “Our goal going forward is to help shape the ideas debate and support the next generation of conservative leaders.”

DeMint made $46,000 in contributions via his two political action committees — Mint PAC and the Senate Conservatives Fund. Mint PAC chipped in to three of DeMint’s Senate colleagues — Thune, Burr and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), all of whom are up for re-election in 2010 — as well as $1,000 for Rep. Zach Wamp’s (R-Tenn.) gubernatorial campaign and $2,500 for Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.).

His Senate Conservatives Fund gave the maximum $10,000 contribution to GOP Senate candidates Marco Rubio of Florida and Chuck DeVore of California, whom it has endorsed. The fund also gave $5,000 to DeMint’s own Senate campaign. And it channeled tens of thousands more, via earmarked contributions from supporters, to Rubio and fellow Senate candidates ex-Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams (R), as well Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who scored a 96 percent on the group’s 2008 Senate scorecard.

An aide to DeMint said the two PACs are affiliated and share the same fundraising limits so, for example, a person who maxes out to Mint PAC cannot contribute to the Senate Conservatives Fund.