NYT: Looking to 2012, Republicans Vie for Big Donors

November 13, 2010- Mitt Romney is not running for president, yet. But a handful of big donors have each contributed in the realm of $100,000, or more, to Mr. Romney this year through a network of state political action committees he has set up that enable him to avoid federal campaign finance limits.

Through a similar arrangement, the Minnesota governor and a potential 2012 contender, Tim Pawlenty, collected $60,000 in late September from a Texas home builder, Bob J. Perry, one of the Republican Party’s largest donors, and his wife, Doylene, and has taken sizable contributions from a slew of others.

The money, which has gone to the politicians’ “leadership PACs,” is not allowed to be used to fuel a presidential run, but it often acts as seed money to help raise a potential candidate’s national profile and provide financing to other politicians who can help him later. The contributions can also build an infrastructure of staff, offices and donors that can be later transformed into a full-fledged campaign, but this kind of spending also carries the potential of tripping over campaign finance laws.

The outsize contributions are possible because while donations to federal PACs are limited to $5,000, many state-based entities have no such limits. Some can also take donations from corporations and unions, which federal PACs cannot directly do.

The generous giving to the state PACs is just one aspect of the 2012 money race, which is well under way. In recent months, many of the candidates-in-waiting have been actively cultivating the kinds of major donors needed to finance expensive presidential bids.

Mr. Romney has been by far the most assertive, according to interviews with a half-dozen top Republican fund-raisers, already pushing for commitments from major donors should he formally decide to run.

Over the summer, Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, invited top bundlers of campaign checks from key states to his vacation home in New Hampshire on several occasions to help firm up their commitments. Mr. Romney has already lined up an array of prominent supporters, including a billionaire, David Koch, who has donated heavily to conservative causes over the years, and Robert Wood Johnson IV, the billionaire owner of the New York Jets and one of the party’s most coveted fund-raisers.

Mr. Pawlenty has also been putting together a financial apparatus. On Monday and Tuesday evening, for instance, he met with top fund-raisers who flew to Minneapolis to listen to a briefing on his record as governor. Those were the latest in a series of such meetings that began in September, according to William Strong, a vice chairman at Morgan Stanley who has spearheaded fund-raising for Mr. Pawlenty’s political action committee, Freedom First.


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