The bank account for Gov. Tim Pawlenty's new national political action committee is a little bit bigger after roughly 300 people attended a fundraiser for Pawlenty's Freedom First PAC in Minneapolis Wednesday night.
The event featured some well-known Hollywood Republicans and comes just days before Pawlenty is scheduled to deliver a speech to Republicans in Iowa.
Gov. Pawlenty's fundraiser officially kicked off his political action committee to help elect Republicans in 2010. As he delivered his speech to an audience in business suits, Pawlenty said his PAC will work to build on the Republican victories in New Jersey and Virginia on Tuesday night.
"We have a great country that's built on tremendous values and principles, but we're adrift and we need to launch this comeback and we know that if we have individuals in leadership positions who don't appreciate that when you expand government, you crowd out other activities and then you begin to stifle some important elements of the American economy and the American spirit," Pawlenty said.
The audience included GOP activists, lobbyists and several state lawmakers who paid from $1,000 to $5,000 to attend. There were special perks for those who bundled upwards of $100,000 in contributions. A spokesman for Pawlenty's PAC said not all of the 300 in attendance were contributors, and he didn't know how much money the event raised.
John Stanoch, Minnesota President of Qwest Communications, attended the fundraiser. Stanoch is a Democrat, but he said he wanted to help get his company's policies in front of key policy makers.
"Our governor wants to have input on public policy nationally and if you're a company that is involved with important public policies, you want to support many people who are involved in the political process," Stanoch said.
Pawlenty also got some Hollywood help at the event. Actors Jon Voight and John Ratzenberger attended and spoke to contributors during a private dinner. Voight told reporters that he likes Pawlenty's message and rearranged his schedule to be in Minnesota. He wasn't willing, however, to endorse Pawlenty for president in 2012.
"That's a long way off," Voight said. "He's certainly one of the new lights of the Republican Party and he's doing a lot of good."
Pawlenty formed his PAC in October which allows him to raise money, pay for travel and help candidates across the country. Past presidential candidates used similar PACs to raise their profile across the country.
Pawlenty hasn't ruled out a run for president in 2012. He said he's been careful to caution supporters who encourage him to run in 2012.
"Some people do, but we always try to inform them this is about a PAC that's dedicated to the 2010 elections," he said.
It's hard, however, for the public not to think Pawlenty is making a run for the White House, especially since he's scheduled to deliver a speech in the politically important state of Iowa on Saturday. Pawlenty said he's still working on his speech to GOP activists in Des Moines.
Here in Minnesota, Democrats say the governor should be working more on addressing state issues. DFL Party Chair Brian Melendez said Pawlenty should focus less on national politics and more on his day job.
"It's not inherently dangerous for a politician to look for another gig. In fact, many of them in both parties are doing it all of the time," Melendez said. "The danger here is that Tim Pawlenty has practically checked out of being governor of Minnesota.
"He really hasn't been much in evidence throughout the summer. He's spending two or three days a week on the road; he's spending this weekend in Iowa. It's very clear that his priority is no longer governing Minnesota, it's running for president."
Pawlenty will focus on his day job on Thursday. He's holding a news conference to announce a proposal to amend the state's constitution. Pawlenty wouldn't offer specifics on his plan, but said it would relate to economic issues and government spending.