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By Jay Cost

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Sarah Palin Starts a PAC

It's called "SarahPac." There is not much detail up on the web yet. The only description is some boilerplate GOP rhetoric about energy independence and building an economy that recognizes hard work.

Candidate PACs such as these were not really around 15 years ago, but today they are commonplace. I've noted on this blog that our campaign finance system has many rules that facilitate legal money laundering. The parties do this, and so also do high-profile politicians via candidate PACs. Those in safe seats often raise money through their network of contributors to give it to worthy candidates facing tough races. This is one of the many wonderful loopholes in our campaign financing system - maximizing dollar contributions to those who need it while keeping accountability to a minimum. [Gee - you'd think it was developed by candidates themselves. Oh wait...it was!]

Why might Palin be setting up a PAC? Think of it this way. She gives a candidate a nice contribution in 2010 and the candidate responds with support, appreciation, gratitude, consideration for her future ambitions. This matters a lot when you are running for President. Both parties, but especially the GOP, have something called the "invisible primary." This is the time before the actual primaries when candidates run around the country looking for establishment support, which brings money, early endorsements, and hopefully crowds out competitors in time for the actual contest. As a frame of reference, think of Tom Vilsack's aborted campaign for the presidency. We'll never know exactly what happened, but it stands to reason that Vilsack had problems in the invisible primary, i.e. he wasn't getting support and/or money. So, he dropped out and endorsed Hillary Clinton. Mitt Romney was a master of the invisible primary, pulling in endorsements, outraising his competitors and even driving Giuliani and McCain out of Iowa. Of course, that just goes to show that the invisible primary is not determinative.

An important caveat: a future presidential candidate will inevitably set up a candidate PAC like this, but everybody who sets up a candidate PAC isn't going to run for president. So, Palin might not be running - though this is certainly an indication that she intends to have some role in national party politics.

If Palin does run, we'll probably get a pretty good read on it. Most every presidential candidate comes out to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina to meet local party officials prior to a declaration of candidacy. That's part of the "testing the waters" phase. Presumably, Palin would do the same. Unlike other candidates, though, she wouldn't be able to do it casually. If she's laying down the cash to fly to Manchester or Charleston or Davenport - she's seriously considering a run.

-Jay Cost