Pawlenty faces his first big test: fundraisingby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is facing his first big test of the 2012 presidential campaign.
Because Pawlenty registered an exploratory committee with the Federal Election Commission in March, he is required to file quarterly fundraising reports. And Friday, April 1, is the beginning of the second quarter of 2011.
Come July, all political eyes will be on how much he was able to raise during that quarter.
His goal is to amass an impressive cache of money from a long list of contributors. How much money Pawlenty is able to bring in will have major implications for his likely presidential bid.
"For a candidate who's not very well known, one of the ways to establish your credentials as being truly a viable candidate is, in fact, to raise a good, healthy amount of money," said Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University.
Goldford says the amount raised is not just important to finance campaign operations; it's important for symbolic reasons as well. If Pawlenty demonstrates an ability to bring in a lot of early cash, more people are likely to get behind him.
But if he looks to be struggling, it could become difficult for him going forward.
"So there can be a kind of reverse spiral, in that the lack of raising funds makes it even harder to raise funds further down the road," he said.
Some experts believe Pawlenty may need to raise as much as $10 million in the next three months to prove his campaign is viable.
So how does a candidate get the millions needed for a White House run?
One way is to target big money; the other is to chase small contributions.
Presidential campaigns build sophisticated marketing networks to attract wealthy donors. The broader value to a campaign lies in a donor's ability to bring in money from friends and associates.
Candidate George W. Bush established "Pioneer" and "Ranger" labels for supporters who were able to bundle at least $100,000 or $200,000 in donations. That is no small feat considering that, regardless of wealth, an individual is limited to only giving $2,500 per election.
"Essentially they're lieutenants, 'bag men' for the candidates -- informal fundraisers," said Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics which tracks campaign financing. "So these folks will tap their networks and troll through their rolodexes to find other rich donors to fuel the efforts of these candidates."
One of those people is Dan Brady. The assistant Republican leader of the Illinois House of Representatives donated $6,000 to Pawlenty's political action committee in 2009. Brady said he plans to contribute to Pawlenty's likely presidential campaign, and will work to convince others to do the same.
"I intend to be a loyal foot soldier and help in every aspect that I possibly can for the governor," he said.
Brady says he hasn't been pressured by Pawlenty, but it's clear the campaign is looking to people like him for help.
"I don't have any quota that's been asked of me," Brady said. "I certainly know that throughout our networking capabilities in Illinois -- Republican grassroots efforts, I should say -- that we'll do anything that we possibly can."
Along with looking for money from those who can give the maximum $2,500, the Pawlenty camp will also likely look for people to make small donations.
Nick Gerten knows a lot about that side of political fundraising. He is the CEO of St. Cloud, Minn.-based Meyer Teleservices, which played a key role in helping Barack Obama raise money for his presidential campaign.
"It seemed to be centered around a lot of people giving a small amount of money," Gerten said of the 2008 campaign.
Meyer Teleservices works only with Democrats, but Gerten knows from experience that, just as the former governor's team will be courting big-bucks donors early, it will also be going after critical small donations.
"Building that small donor base is important for a national campaign -- not only in terms of the aggregate amount of dollars that can come in from those donors, but it also shows a broad base of grassroots support for the candidate," he said.
- Morning Edition, 04/01/2011, 7:20 a.m.