Palin’s small-donor fundraising shows path around GOP establishment to nomination

Sarah Palin has demonstrated she can go around the mainstream media using Facebook and Twitter. But her recent fundraising shows that she can also, if she so desires, go around the established network of high dollar conservative “whale” donors who have underwritten most Republican candidates for president in recent history.

In other words, she’s a wild card who can pretty much do what she wants, no matter how the GOP establishment feels about it.

The FEC report filed Sunday by SarahPAC, Palin’s political action committee, showed a remarkably high percentage of small dollar donors who gave less than $200. The bulk of the money received in the second quarter—$660,000 out of $865,000—was unitemized. That means it came from supporters whose contribution was not only less than $200, but who may have given multiple times yet still not gone over the $200 mark in total giving. Palin aides would not comment on how many contributions were made to reach the $660,000.

Even out of the $200,000 that came from donors with contributions of $200 or more for the calendar year, SarahPAC received only 10 gifts of $5,000, the maximum amount allowed under law, from the beginning of April through the end of June. One donor gave $3,000. But the average donation for these itemized contributions was $285, according to an analysis of the numbers by The Daily Caller.

Palin, who spent $153,679 on direct mail efforts to solicit donations, was outraised by other leading Republican names in the second quarter. Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio raised a whopping $4.5 million. Ohio Senate candidate Rob Portman raised $2.6 million. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann raised $1.7 million, though some of that came in with the help of a fundraiser hosted by Palin.

Yet Palin’s large number of small contributions lays out a potential path to the Republican nomination for president in 2012 despite the presence of a major obstacle: many of the most influential people in the Republican Party believe it would be a disaster if she became the nominee.

“I don’t ever think she would make a major breakthrough with the high dollar folks,” said Vin Weber, a top Washington Republican lobbyist, who backed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination in 2008 but is co-chair of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s PAC.

“That would be the story of a Palin campaign. She would finance the campaign largely through small donors and internet donors and things like that,” Weber said in an interview, comparing Palin’s ability to raise large amounts of cash online to President Obama’s during his campaign.

Weber also said that inside the GOP “there would be a lot of people with misgivings” about a Palin candidacy for the GOP nomination in 2012.

“But I think they’d be very reluctant to express them. She is so clearly the champion of a large swath of grassroots Republicans,” he said, adding that this would have a domino effect on Palin’s ability to recruit operatives to build a campaign infrastructure, removing a potential barrier for ambitious campaign professionals on the right to go work for Palin.