WASHINGTON Republican Sarah Palin has raised more than $865,000 in political contributions over the past three months, fueling speculation the former vice presidential nominee could be readying a 2012 White House bid, experts said on Monday.
The political action committee known as Sarah PAC also spent $655,000 during the second quarter, including about $83,000 on campaign contributions to Republican candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives, according to a report filed over the weekend with the Federal Election Commission.
Palin's PAC entered the month of July with more than $1 million in cash on hand.
"All signs point to her running for president in 2012 with that kind of money," said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean.
Palin staff declined to comment.
The results also suggest Palin, a darling of the conservative Tea Party movement, could be following President Barack Obama's 2008 election lead by building up an early network of grass-roots supporters.
About half of those who contributed money during the second quarter gave less than $200. That compares with the first three months of 2010, when the PAC took in about $400,000, with small donors making up only one-in-four contributors.
"There are a lot of people willing to make a contribution to her, and during tough economic times when the money given is more valuable than when times are great," said Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution.
Other experts suggested Palin's fundraising prowess reflects her popularity as a best-selling author and emerging TV personality.
Palin's PAC raised about $1.3 million in the first half of 2010 compared to $730,000 in the same period last year.
This year's total is still less than half the $2.7 million that Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's PAC collected through the month of May.
The former Massachusetts governor's Free & Strong America PAC, which reports its finances on a monthly basis, has not yet filed for June. Nor have the PACs of other potential Republican presidential rivals including former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
Last year, Palin raised $2.1 million; Romney raised $2.9 million, Pawlenty $1.3 million and Huckabee $824,000.
Each has used much of the money promoting themselves and their policy positions at events across the country.
But Palin, a former Alaska governor with little experience in national politics, has increasingly shifted spending to Republican candidates for the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, a sign of her growing political muscle.
About 13 percent of second-quarter spending went to House and Senate candidates including Republican Joe Miller, who is challenging Alaska's incumbent Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski.
(Editing by Alan Elsner)