While he has been publicly noncommittal about running for president next year, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has quietly reignited his fundraising machine.
Beginning late last year, the two-term Republican flipped the switch on a long-dormant political committee, Aiming Higher, that is qualified to accept donations in unlimited amounts. Since late last year, he has raked in more than $675,000 in contributions from individuals and organizations across the country, including $250,000 from the American Federation for Children, a group that promotes school vouchers. Meanwhile, Daniels's better-known political fundraising arm, the Aiming Higher PAC, raised $2.2 million last year, when the term-limited Daniels was not on the ballot.
According to a new report from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, the haul puts Daniels ahead of every other potential presidential candidate when it came to fundraising from state-level PACs. Only former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came close; his state PACs raised a combined $1.6 million. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s state PACs raised $337,000.
While both presidential hopefuls, unlike Daniels, have other political action committees whose combined takes put them ahead of the Indiana governor, Daniels's take is still impressive for a politician who was not actively fundraising for himself. Indeed, for much of the last year, Daniels was prohibited by state law to actively fundraise because the legislature was in session.
Aiming Higher PAC's funds were raised and spent to help Indiana Republicans take control of the state House. Yet, a significant sum came from out-of-state donors. The total indicates how strong a fundraiser the well-connected Daniels could be if he decides to run for president. Among his long time allies: Jim Bopp Jr., a top elections lawyer who has filed numerous lawsuits to roll back limits on political donations.
All of Daniels's donations last year were aimed at gaining legislative control of his state, an effort that proved successful: The Indiana House flipped from Democratic to Republican control in November, giving Republicans complete control of the legislative chamber. In contrast, Romney spent more than $400,000 helping Republican candidates across the country, almost half in the early primary and caucus states of South Carolina, Iowa, and New Hampshire. Pawlenty spent $167,000 on local candidates, with more than two thirds of that going to the three early-primary states. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., another possible presidential candidate, spent $13,000 in next-door Iowa, her birthplace and new favorite destination.
Despite his recent fundraising success, Daniels still lags behind the candidates who would be among his toughest competitors should he decide to enter the race for the GOP presidential nomination. For example, Pawlenty’s leadership PAC, Freedom First, raised $3.4 million in 2010 and ended the year with $155,000 cash on hand. Romney reported raising $9.1 million last year and recently raised more than $10 million in a one-day telethon.
Still, Daniels’s fundraising figures attest to his strong connections with major party donors—and their interest in underwriting a future presidential campaign. If Daniels can raise more than $2 million without trying, it's intriguing to consider how much he could bring in if he breaks a sweat.