In the crowded field of potential 2012 Republican presidential contenders, no one spent more to help the GOP reclaim the House majority in the days before the midterm elections than Sarah Palin.
Palin funneled $244,000 to federal candidates and committees in the most recent reporting period — all but a few thousand dollars going to 44 House candidates and a handful of state parties in the 19 days before the elections.
The latest campaign finance reports that detail federal political action committee spending from Oct. 14 to Nov. 22 signal the unofficial beginning of the 2012 presidential campaign, offering the most complete look yet at the jockeying by Republican heavyweights who will need state-level alliances across the country if they hope to claim their party’s nomination to challenge President Barack Obama.
“This is a classic sign of early organization. It’s putting markers down,” said Gene Ulm, a partner in the Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies. “Serious people who are thinking about running, this is what they do.”
The late-cycle spending from the former Alaska governor’s SarahPAC represents the most significant investment in Congressional candidates down the stretch, but her efforts over the past year were dwarfed overall by those of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. His Free and Strong America PAC gave $769,000 to federal candidates and committees in 2010, including $110,000 since Oct. 14. Palin, by contrast, gave just $471,000 for the year, according to her PAC’s federal filing.
Romney, who finished second in the 2008 GOP presidential primary, made such a strong showing four years ago thanks in part to his aggressive efforts to shore up early support on Capitol Hill. He nabbed endorsements from top GOP Members in 2007 and 2008, with nearly 50 by the time Republicans started voting. Few Members have yet indicated leanings this time around, but Romney’s generosity over the campaign cycle that helped Republicans win back the House this fall is sure to help him when he comes knocking for endorsements.
Romney dominated the other potential candidates in both the size and scope of his giving. He sent the $5,000 maximum annual donation to 25 Republican Senate candidates this year. And he gave at least $2,500 to a whopping 220 Republican House candidates.
Palin picked more winners than losers: 24 of the 44 candidates she sent money to will serve in the next Congress. Romney, whose strategy in 2008 included heavy spending, gave to just about everyone.
Romney sent $63,000 to support South Carolina Gov.-elect Nikki Haley, $5,000 to Kentucky Sen.-elect Rand Paul’s campaign and $7,500 to House candidate John Loughlin in Rhode Island, who lost his bid to take the seat held by the retiring Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D).
Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom had predictably nice things to say about Palin and others eyeing the White House.
“Sarah Palin has been a real asset to the Republican Party,” Fehrnstrom told Roll Call on Friday. “We’re fortunate to have leaders like Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney and others who are committed to raising money to help elect conservative candidates that want to strengthen America.”