Gov. Tim Pawlenty heads to New Hampshire today to campaign for Republicans running for governor and Congress in that state, the governor's fourth trip to the Granite State and another sign he is building the foundation to run for president in 2012.
Pawlenty has been crisscrossing the country to campaign for Republicans and has visited 27 states in a little over a year. While Pawlenty has been racking up the frequent flyer miles, a large part of his focus has been on the key presidential states of Iowa and New Hampshire. He has raised nearly $2.7 million.
In July, Pawlenty visited a Republican county picnic in Dover, N.H. He took part in a pie-tasting contest, spoke on behalf of Republican candidates and met core Republican voters. He also arrived bearing a gift -- a $500 check to the local Republican party.
Pawlenty has delivered plenty of checks in New Hampshire. Last week, he endorsed more than 30 federal, state and local candidates there, and announced he was giving a total of $27,000 to those candidates. The money is coming from his federal political action committee and a New Hampshire-based PAC.
Pawlenty has created another state-based committee in Iowa to help candidates there. While he is actively working to elect candidates in those states, an MPR News analysis of campaign finance data found that the governor isn't relying on donors from those states. His federal PAC reports just one donation from New Hampshire and two donations from Iowa.
"We don't really view our role as taking money out of competitive states like Iowa or New Hampshire," said Alex Conant, a spokesman for Pawlenty's Freedom First political action committee. "We want to go there and help the candidates there by raising money for them."
The MPR News analysis of contributions to the Iowa and New Hampshire PACs shows Pawlenty is tapping a few donors. Federal law caps individual donations to PACs at $5,000 a year. By creating PACs in Iowa and New Hampshire, Pawlenty is able to tap the same donors more than once.
Finance reports show that the family of Chicago banker William Strong, who co-chairs Pawlenty's federal PAC, has given $42,000 to Pawlenty's federal and New Hampshire PACs. Voyager Bank CEO Bill Owens and his wife gave $40,000 to Pawlenty's federal PAC and his PAC in Iowa.
In total, 15 households gave $303,000 to Pawlenty's Iowa, New Hampshire and Federal PACs -- for 11 percent of the funds he's raised.
Pawlenty spokesman Conant said some of Pawlenty's key donors are excited to help the governor.
"A lot of folks who are really impressed with the governor and want to be supportive of our efforts to help conservatives win this fall, want to keep giving even after they've maxed out to the federal PAC and these state based PACs are a great way to do that," Conant said.
Tapping the same donors to give to multiple PACs is legal. Other potential candidates Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee are doing the same thing.
But Paul Ryan, a campaign finance watchdog at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, said Pawlenty and the other presidential hopefuls are doing an end run around campaign finance law.
"If you're looking to amass a bunch of money either in excess of the contribution limits of any one jurisdiction or complete circumvention of a jurisdiction's contribution limits, one of the ways to achieve that is by setting up different committees in different states," Ryan said.
Candidates have been careful not to declare a run for president or even suggest they are testing the waters, Ryan said. Once that happens, the candidates are held to different standards.
For example, campaign finance laws would then limit individual contributions to $2,400, much less than what politicians can collect through their leadership PACs. Ryan said it's a stretch to say Pawlenty isn't in the early stages of a presidential campaign.
"To the extent that individuals are flying repeatedly to New Hampshire and Iowa and South Carolina to "discuss public issues" and not acknowledge that they're running for president -- it's a bit of a charade in my view," Ryan said.
Pawlenty has said he will announce early next year whether he'll run for president.