WASHINGTON -- Gov. Sarah Palin opened a political action committee Tuesday, a move that may not outright confirm her intentions of running for president in 2012 but indicates she intends to remain a regular on the national political stage.
SarahPAC, which will raise money online at www.sarahpac.com, was registered Monday night with the Federal Election Commission. The Web site went live Tuesday, said Pam Pryor, who worked as a liaison between the McCain-Palin presidential campaign and the Republican National Committee. Now, Pryor is serving as a volunteer spokeswoman for the new PAC.
The goal of the committee, according to its Web site, is to "make it possible for Gov. Palin to continue to be a strong voice for energy independence and reform. ... SarahPAC will support local and national candidates who share Gov. Palin's ideas and goals for our country."
But it also allows Palin to more easily differentiate between her political activity and her gubernatorial duties, Pryor said. She can use the money raised by the political committee to donate to other like-minded candidates or to incur travel expenses on behalf of them. She also can use it to pay for her own political activities unrelated to her official job.
So Palin, for example, can use money raised by the committee to attend two upcoming political events outside Alaska, Pryor said.
First up is the annual Alfalfa Club dinner in Washington this weekend, which Pryor said the governor plans to attend. According to the Washington Post, the elite club's 200 members include politicians such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In a story about last year's dinner (among the attendees was President Bush), the Post reported the club was founded nearly 100 years ago "by four Southern gentlemen, apparently for no purpose other than holding an annual dinner on the last Saturday of January" (a nod to the birthday of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee).
In late February, Palin is tentatively scheduled to speak at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.
"She came onto the national scene, and there's still a great deal of appetite in the political world to have her be a part of that," Pryor said. "Her family and Alaska come first. After that, if there's extra time, I think she still wants to be involved and will look at the PAC as a way to fuel that to kind of fuel that political activity."
Pryor said that Palin wants there to be a "bright line" between her duties as governor and her political activity. Some critics, including political activist Andree McLeod, have complained that Palin blurred those during her bid for vice president.
Earlier this week, McLeod filed ethics complaints against two of Palin's top aides, alleging her communications director, Bill McAllister, and close aide, Kris Perry, misused their positions to promote the governor's political ambitions. McLeod cited as evidence the time Perry spent traveling with the governor on the vice presidential campaign trail and afterward. She also cited e-mails that she said showed McAllister in "an ongoing collaboration with Republican National Committee convention staff."
Palin's press office, citing the state's ethics guidelines, would not answer any questions Tuesday about SarahPAC. They also would not refer a request for an interview about it to the governor. They referred all questions to the Alaska Republican Party.
Pryor was emphatic that the PAC is not an exploratory committee for a potential presidential bid in 2012.
"No, Lord, no!" Pryor said.
The new PAC and its Web site launched with a splash Tuesday, when both -- along with Palin's attendance at the Alfalfa Club event -- got a mention in the New York Post's gossip column.
The Web site was created on Jan. 2 by Campaign Solutions, a company whose client lists include the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign and the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign. The political action committee itself is registered in Virginia, according to FEC records, and its treasurer is Timothy Crawford, a fundraiser who has worked with Pryor on previous PACs.
Such political action committees, often known as leadership PACs, are common for members of Congress. In Alaska, Rep. Don Young has one, and former Sen. Ted Stevens had one. For members of Congress, such committees are another avenue for raising money, especially once their regular donors have reached the limit on contributions for the election cycle. They also allow members of Congress to curry favor with their colleagues with PAC donations to their re-election campaign accounts.
The committees aren't unheard of for governors, but they're not exactly common, either. Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat who's now in the U.S. Senate, has a sizeable leadership PAC that spent more than $958,000 in the last election cycle, according to the FEC.
Disgraced former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer, a Democrat, had a leadership PAC, called the Excelsior Committee.
Other current and former governors with higher aspirations have them too, including Republican Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi and former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, now in President Barack Obama's cabinet as the secretary of Homeland Security.
Many former presidential contenders also have -- or had -- leadership PACs. They include Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had HillPAC and Gen. Wesley Clark, himself a former presidential candidate, who has WesPAC. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, himself a potential repeat as a Republican presidential candidate in 2012, has one too: Huck PAC.