Gov. Tim Pawlenty's "Freedom First" political action committee has raised $2.6 million so far and more than $700,000 in the second quarter of the year, a figure that trails other likely presidential candidates.
Pawlenty said he put together his PAC to help Republicans around the country, but political observers say Pawlenty is using the PAC to increase his national standing as part of a possible 2012 presidential campaign.
The second quarter fund raising of $723,000 surpassed expectations, said Alex Conant, the PAC's spokesman. Conant said the more people Pawlenty meets, the more money he can raise to help the Republican party in this November's midterm elections.
"We're really encouraged with the strong support we've seen for governor Pawlenty's political activities already this year," Conant said. "We now have the resources to play a real role in this fall's elections."
Pawlenty insists he hasn't decided whether he will run for president and that he won't until sometime early next year. Instead, he said he's focused on the midterm elections and that that's why been traveling so much and raising so much money.
As of the end of June, Pawlenty's PAC was sitting on about $940,000 in cash.
LITTLE MONEY SPENT ON CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATES
So far, the vast majority of the money Pawlenty's PAC has spent, has gone to cover administrative expenses and travel. Of the roughly $1.6 million the PAC has spent, only about $109,000, or less than 7 percent, has gone to federal candidates or political committees.
Carleton College Political Science Professor Steven Schier said despite Pawlenty's claims, his Freedom First PAC is all about the 2012 president race.
"Tim Pawlenty is staffing up for an eventual presidential run," Schier said. He's trying to find consultants, he's arranging travel and so forth. These committees are primarily about doing that and also some candidate contributions for 2010 but with an eye to those that would help you in 2012."
The last several contributions Pawlenty's PAC made ended up in the important southern primary state of South Carolina -- a total of $14,500 to six candidates. Still, Conant said it's all about this year's midterm elections, not the 2012 presidential race.
"I wouldn't read too much into which states we are helping in," Conant said. "We're looking for states where we can have a great impact, states where we have strong candidates."
TRAILING OTHER LIKELY GOP CANDIDATES
Pawlenty's fund raising trails that of other likely presidential candidates. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's PAC collected $1.8 million dollars during the second quarter and ended the period with more than twice as much cash as Pawlenty. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's PAC raised $865,000 and had a little more than $1 million dollars cash at the end of last month.
Pawlenty has had his PAC up and running since last fall. He raised more money during the forth quarter of last year than he did during either of the two quarters this year.
Schier said if Pawlenty does run for president, he'll need a lot more money sooner rather than later.
"He's going to need up to $100 million to get the party's nomination," Schier said. "So you could say he has a long way to go."
Pawlenty was in New Hampshire last weekend and he'll be in Iowa later this month. Both states are critical in presidential politics. Both are also the only places where Pawlenty has set up state PACs to raise and distribute money locally.