Palin Leads GOP Presidential Hopeful Fundraising Race

The former governor has raised $1.3 million.

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January 31 was the Federal Election Commission's filing deadline for 2010 year-end finance reports, and the newest data provides some insight into which potential candidates are best-positioned now for a 2012 presidential bid. None of the best-known aspirants have officially declared their intention to seek the White House, but some are amassing significant amounts of money. Of the top GOP prospects, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and South Dakota Sen. John Thune were among the best-funded at 2010's end, with 22 months to go until Election Day 2012.

[See a slide show of 10 GOP hopefuls in 2012]

Many Republicans who may seek their party's nomination are wielding influence and raising money via leadership PACs. Politicians generally use leadership PACs to support fellow candidates and to better position themselves to seek higher office--two goals that go hand-in-hand. Several of 2012's top GOP presidential picks were also major GOP benefactors in the 2010 midterms. For example, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog group, Romney's Free & Strong America PAC contributed nearly $690,000 to federal candidates in the 2010 cycle, and DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund contributed $85,000, in addition to the $1.9 million it spent on advertising and other communications for conservative candidates. Sarah Palin's SarahPAC was also generous, giving out $265,000 in 2010. And even after doling out tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, those big spenders still have plenty of cash on hand.

[See photos of Sarah Palin and her family.]

Below are some of the most talked-about potential 2012 GOP presidential candidates, with the amount their leadership PACs had in the bank as of the end of 2010.

Potential Candidate Leadership PAC Cash on Hand (as of Dec. 31, 2010)
Sarah Palin SarahPAC $1,328,951
Jim DeMint Senate Conservatives Fund $1,146,887
Mitt Romney Free & Strong America $796,208
Haley Barbour Haley's PAC $391,610
Michele Bachmann MICHELE PAC $192,805
John Thune Heartland Values $182,230
Tim Pawlenty Freedom First PAC $154,990
Mike Huckabee HUCK PAC $137,660
Rick Santorum America's Foundation $102,000
Ron Paul Liberty PAC $90,104

This list, of course, does not paint a full picture of the presidential candidate field. Georgia businessman and conservative talk radio host Herman Cain, who has formed a presidential exploratory committee, has not yet had to file financial information with the FEC.

Another important factor is the serious cash that some possible candidates have in their campaign committee accounts. John Thune, for example, reported $7.2 million in his campaign committee's coffers as of November 22. Bachmann ended the year with $2.0 million, and DeMint had $1.8 million as of late November. According to FEC rules, federal candidates can hold onto their campaign committees' cash if they choose to solely seek the presidency and not their current congressional offices in 2012. [See who donates the most to Bachmann.]

However, this rule does not hold for state officeholders, meaning that Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie--two other popular 2012 picks--would not be able to use their current campaign account balances if they made presidential bids. At the end of 2010, Daniels' campaign account held just under $17,000, while Christie's account held $187,000.

Of course, whoever wins the Republican nod will have to go up against the president, who proved his fundraising mettle in 2008. As of September 30, 2010, President Obama's 2008 committee, Obama for America, reported $3.2 million in the bank.