Trying to defuse another round of negative publicity, Tim Pawlenty's campaign insisted Thursday that the willingness of a handful of top staffers to work for little or no money does not reflect broader fundraising problems.
The campaign was responding to a Washington Post story that said at least five top advisers are foregoing the big paychecks typical of a national campaign.
One of the advisers, Phil Musser, said he and a few others always planned to receive minimal compensation.
"We're all working for Tim Pawlenty because we believe in him,'' said Musser, noting that he and other top staffers have personally donated the maximum amount to the campaign. "This isn't about money. There's been no change in our approach since the beginning of the campaign.''
Pawlenty has been struggling to maintain his perch as a top competitor in the GOP presidential contest since he balked at confronting presumed frontrunner Mitt Romney during a nationally televised debate on June 13. Even Pawlenty himself acknowledged he should have been more direct, while his fellow Minnesotan, Michele Bachmann, received kudos for her spunky delivery. The unfavorable contrast came at a time when candidates are particularly eager to project strength as they approach the deadline for the three-month fundraising period that ends June 30.
Asked if Bachmann was cutting into Pawlenty's fundraising, Musser said, "The governor has had a very strong response from the Minnesota donor community. He's grateful for the support he's received from people who know him best.''
Jay Levy, Pawlenty's finance chairman in New Hampshire, also dismissed the idea that Bachmann was threatening Pawlenty, though he acknowledged a "tough economic environment'' for campaign fundraising.
"I think it's way too early to do any analysis on that since she just officially got into it,'' he said. "It's no secret that Mitt Romney has the largest coffers and everyone else is working on the momentum.''
Levy also defended Pawlenty's decision not to go on the attack in the first major debate of the campaign, though he acknowledged that televised events do create perceptions about the candidates.
"We can't control it if the press picks winners and losers,'' he said. "It's so early, and one of the things that attracted me to Pawlenty in the first place was that I think he's a tremendous leader who doesn't get into too much negativity.''