Early 2012 Posturing: The Money Game; UPDATE

A kinder, gentler year for Republicans, 2009 witnessed the flipping of two governorships–one in the newly-designated purple commonwealth of Virginia–and the Senate seat long-held by the late Ted Kennedy. The prospective 2012 Republican contenders, too, have capitalized on the base’s renewed vigor, with early front-runners pulling in–and dolling out–millions for their political action committees.

Mitt Romney’s Free and Strong political action committee raised just shy of $3 million and contributed $120,000 to Republican state and federal candidates in 2009, according to a year-end finance report released Friday by the group.

Handicapped by late entry, Tim Pawlenty’s group, Freedom First PAC, raised only $1.28 million last year. Pawlenty aides note, however, the committee was organized in October and fundraising totals account only for the fourth quarter, whereas Romney’s committee has been operating all year.

In the fourth quarter, Pawlenty transferred $395,000* to Republican candidates — a figure more than double what Romney’s PAC contributed over the entire year.

Fox News Channel personality Mike Huckabee’s Huck PAC performed far worse than expected, reporting Saturday the group raised a meager $800,000. The year-end finance release failed to mention how much, or little, the committee had contributed to GOP candidates and causes, but according to OpenSecrets.org, the group had contributed only $10,000 by January 10, 2010.

Unlike the committees of Huckabee’s likely rivals, Huck PAC’s value is found not in its war chest, but in its expansive and ever-growing network of volunteers, who made more than 60,000 voter contacts for PAC-endorsed candidates, according to the committee.

While PAC expenditures are regarded by would-be nominees as a necessary investment in their eventual campaign, such as the situation is for Pawlenty and Romney, Huckabee’s early pockets are surprisingly shallow, which will inhibit his ability to curry favor with party faithful.

PAC operatives for each committee will argue the metrics for judging each committee differ, but the ultimate arbiter in politics is cold, hard cash; who has it, who knows how to get more of it, and who shares it will win the popularity contest we have come to know as the presidential nominating process. On this count, Pawlenty is, hands down, the front-runner.

UPDATE: An informed reader emails to say I have conflated Pawlenty’s operating expenditures with his political disbursements, noting that the Minnesota Governor only contributed $16,800 to federal candidates in 2009.

Presently, it’s unclear if that figure accounts for monies contributed to state candidates, state Republican parties and GOP causes. It is worth noting, though, that of Romney’s $120,000 in contributions, 56% went to state candidates, parties and causes, so a similar trend may exist in Pawlenty’s reporting.

I have requested clarification from a Pawlenty aide and will update further when appropriate.

UPDATED II:Pawlenty aides do not dispute the $16k figure, but hasten to point out that the committee was formed in late in 2009 with a balance of 0.

While the PAC has already contributed (significantly less) to many of the same candidates as Romney, including Doug Hoffman, Rob Portman, Scott Brown, and the Minnesota Republican Congressional delegation, they intend “to support many other candidates as we get into election season this year.”

Apart from those candidates endorsed and supported by the committee, aides offered this interesting caveat: Pawlenty headlined numerous Republican fundraisers for candidates and committees — none of which would be represented in the report. While his team asked supporters to donate directly to Brown’s campaign, TPaw himself held events for the Iowa, South Dakota, Michigan and Ohio state Republican parties.

Cross-posted to Skepticians.com.

Follow James on Twitter.