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01.26.11

Palin's Post-Midterms Donations Haul

Before telling Fox News that Obama’s State of the Union contained a “WTF” moment (watch below), her SarahPAC reported a wave of small donations after the November election. Shushannah Walshe on the FEC disclosure—and why Michele Bachmann never cashed Palin's check.

During the normally sleepy post-election period, SarahPAC, Sarah Palin's political action committee, raised more than $275,000 from Nov. 23 to Dec. 31, 2010, according to its latest Federal Election Commission report released Wednesday. That brings her total to $3.5 million for the year.

She has $1.3 million available cash on hand, and almost all of the money came from individual donors, in amounts less than $200, highlighting her populist appeal even during a non-election cycle. Only eight of the more than 600 donations were for $1,000 or more. In the same period, the PAC spent nearly $230,000. In comparison, potential 2012 rival Mitt Romney hauled in $5.1 million last year. But Palin topped another likely 2012er: Tim Pawlenty, who raised $2.1 million for the year. Both Romney and Pawlenty's PACs have not yet filed for this final end of the year period.

A few surprises in the financial disclosure: SarahPAC reported that donations to two 2010 GOP candidates, Mike Coffman of Colorado and Michele Bachman of Minnesota, were not cashed by the campaigns.

Bachmann is a fundraising powerhouse, breaking records by raising more than $10 million for her House race. Her team says it never got the check, but is still "very grateful" and would be happy to take the cash.

"We never received anything. We love Sarah Palin," said a Bachmann campaign aide. "We would be glad to accept it if they re-issue it."

The aide added that they believed Palin's contribution was that she came to campaign with the Tea Party star in April in her Minnesota district. The Coffman campaign did not return calls for comment.

SarahPAC Treasurer Tim Crawford emailed an explanation for the Bachmann check disappearance: "I suppose it was lost. I waited and finally stopped payment. We gave her $1,000 back in [the] summer of '09 as well."

Video screenshot

The report does not reveal an increase in the number of staff or give any hint at a ramp-up toward a presidential run. The SarahPAC staff remains a small group, many whom make hefty salaries, and it's likely several would be employed in the campaign if she were to launch a presidential bid.

Many are billed not directly, but through firms they have established. For example, Rebecca Mansour, Palin's closest adviser, speechwriter, and social-media guru, made $8,000 in the period, according to the report. She's billed under the name Aries Petra Consulting LLC. Crawford hauled in $15,000 in the same period. Political adviser Andy Davis also earned $15,000. Jason Recher, who was originally Palin's closest aide but was sidelined for Mansour, was paid $10,000, billed to his firm NorthStar Strategies. Doug McMarlin, who with Recher performed advance duties for Palin, also was paid $10,000, billed to his firm Grey Strategies. Palin foreign-policy advisers Michael Goldfarb and Randy Scheunemann are both employed by Scheunemann's firm Orion Strategies, which also billed $10,000.

The report does not reveal an increase in the number of staff or give any hint at a ramp-up toward a presidential run.

Alaska-based scheduler Robyn Engibous, billed to True North L'Attitudes, earned just over $5,400. Pam Pryor, who does outreach to evangelical groups, earned $6,000. The firm Paideia Research LLC, which Mother Jones reported was linked to Joshua Livestro, billed $4,000 for "research." RealClearPolitics described Livestro as a "Dutch newspaper columnist who has also contributed to the pro-Palin website Conservatives4Palin.com" and is researching the European debt crisis for Palin. Like Mansour and their boss, Palin, Livestro frequently tweets, but unlike both of their feeds that are closely monitored by reporters, Livestro tweets mostly in Dutch. Paideia Research LLC lists a Sheridan, Wyoming, address, but Livestro is based in Britain.

According to the report, the staffer that took in the most money during the period is lawyer and adviser Thomas van Flein, whose law firm billed $20,000 in legal retainer fees and an additional $10,000 in legal services. Van Flein left the high-paying job last month to take a job (and a likely pay cut) as legislative director with Arizona freshman Congressman Paul Gosar, who ousted incumbent Ann Kirkpatrick. Crawford explains that the high amount is because Van Flein was paid for October, November, and December because Crawford was late in paying the October fees to Van Flein.

The other payments on the financial-disclosure form were for direct mail, thank-you notes, Internet and phone services, and flights, including $2,543 for a California-based air charter on October 29, 2010, the same day Palin headlined a rally in Anchorage for endorsee Joe Miller. It's unclear if it was used for an Alaska flight, and the rest of the flights appear to be standard commercial flights.

Lawrence Noble, former FEC general counsel who is now practicing political law at Skadden Arps, says if Palin does decide to run for president, she'll be relying on these donors who are putting their hands in their wallets after the midterms.

"It will be interesting to see whether she will be able to fundraise at the same pace or a greater pace than before. Prior to this [period], the focus was on the candidates she was supporting. After the election, the focus will be on her—and the question in many contributors' minds is whether she will run," Noble said.

Political action committees have until the end of the month to file these financial-disclosure forms and it's at that point we can compare this filing period's haul to her potential 2012 competitors.

John Avlon contributed to this report.

Shushannah Walshe covers politics for The Daily Beast. She is the co-author of Sarah From Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar. She was a reporter and producer at the Fox News Channel from August 2001 until the end of the 2008 presidential campaign.