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Pence's Fundraising Conundrum

Pence's Fundraising Conundrum

By Erin McPike - January 21, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS -- Fundraising challenges could affect Indiana Republican Rep. Mike Pence's calculus as he makes his future political plans.

It's not just that some GOP operatives say the financial sums Pence has posted with the Federal Election Commission in campaigns past are lackluster. There's a statute in Indiana that bars him from raising money for a possible gubernatorial campaign until after the state legislature's session closes in late April - and that could have an impact on his decision and shed some light on his coyness in the process.

The congressman is nearing a self-imposed deadline of late January for making a decision on whether to run for president in 2012 or for the open governor's chair. Indiana Republican sources said earlier this week that Pence's team was preparing some sort of announcement for next week, and the rumors on the ground are that he's readying a campaign to be chief executive of the Hoosier State. A Pence spokesman said no announcement is planned because a decision hasn't been made.

Pence addressed the Indiana General Assembly on Tuesday and met with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican also considering a presidential bid who will leave office at the end of this cycle due to term limits. After November's elections Daniels urged the politicians of his state not to make their intentions for higher office known until after the 2011 session ends - and at least financially, there's no incentive for them to announce anyway.

In March of 2010, the Indiana legislature expanded a ban on fundraising during sessions of the General Assembly. The ban applies to all state officeholders as well as candidates for state offices, which would include Pence should he choose to run for governor.

Pence is headlining about eight Lincoln Day Dinners that county Republican organizations are holding this winter and spring throughout Indiana, but sources in the state said he's been invited to many more than eight and could be confirmed to speak at more of them in short order.

As one party source explained, "What better thing to do than start meeting Republicans in other parts of the state if he can't raise money during this time period?" Indeed, the state statute does not prevent Pence "from participating in party activities conducted by a regular party committee."

Of course, if he does decide to run for president, it will take a hefty fundraising surge, and he would start almost from scratch.

During the 2010 election cycle, Pence's campaign raised $2.5 million and spent the bulk of it for a race that he won with 67 percent of the vote.

As of Nov. 22, 2010, Pence had about $461,000 in his federal campaign coffers. By contrast, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, who is perhaps more serious about a 2012 presidential bid, had an eye-popping sum of $7.2 million in his campaign account at that time. In other words, Thune has about 15 times more operating money from the starting gate than Pence has, and the two conservatives could appeal to some of the same constituencies in a Republican primary.

According to legal parameters, Pence is able to transfer money he's raised for a federal campaign down to a state campaign - but the money can't be funneled in the opposite direction. That means Pence could open a presidential exploratory committee now and then shoot the federal campaign cash into a gubernatorial campaign should he switch races later in the cycle, although most Republican sources in the state say such a scenario is highly unlikely.

And Pence's spokesman stressed that his fundraising is stronger than some realize, considering he raised an additional $1 million for the National Republican Congressional Committee and more for his Win Back America PAC last cycle. According to data filed with the FEC, Pence's PAC raised about $615,000 in the last cycle and spent $561,000, leaving the PAC with just more than $56,000 left for operating expenditures going forward.

Compared to his potential rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, that means he would have quite a few donors to call. There's no doubt the uptick in draft movements for a Pence presidential bid helps his bottom line - for whichever race he chooses.

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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