Fred Watkins/Fox News/AP
In this February 2012 file photo provided by Fox News, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin talks on Fox News Sunday in Washington.

Is Sarah Palin's political career really over?

Lest anyone forget, Sarah Palin has a PAC with almost $1.2 million cash on hand. She may be out at Fox News, but she's got a lot of money to invest in GOP candidates or, if she opts to run for office again, herself.

Is Sarah Palin’s political career really over? You’d sure think so by the tone of the mainstream media’s coverage of her and Fox News parting ways. Many headlines on this story have employed the past tense – “What Sarah Palin Meant” at the Washington Post’s political blog The Fix, for instance. Our Decoder colleague Brad Knickerbocker wrote up a career retrospective for Ms. Palin after the news broke.

“If this is sounding like a political obituary for Sarah Palin, it may well be,” he wrote.

Look, we get that Palin’s own electoral prospects are dim, to say the least. It wasn’t that long ago that one of the biggest questions in American politics was whether she’d run for president. Now the former Alaska governor has been surpassed by so many other tea party conservatives that Fox News chief Roger Ailes can’t be bothered to keep her on retainer. Her own actions damaged her political brand – remember the episodic bus tour? The stop at Paul Revere’s house, where she mangled the Revere story? The Alaska-based reality show?

But if cable news ubiquity really equaled electoral viability we might now be living through President James Carville’s second term. Plus – and this is something we think has been overlooked – Sarah Palin is sitting on more than a million dollars in political money. That alone could ensure she continues as a national player.

Yes, while you haven’t been watching SarahPAC has continued to pull in cash. That’s Palin’s leadership political action committee, a type of fundraising organization that allows politicians to collect funds for donation to other candidates or political committees, and to lay the groundwork for future candidacies of their own.

SarahPAC’s latest filing with the Federal Election Commission shows that it had $1,196,956.73 cash on hand at the end of 2012. Furthermore, its debts are zero. So that’s a stash of money free and clear that Palin can bestow on her favored candidates. A million bucks can buy you many friends in politics, particularly when you’ve already got a core of committed supporters.

Look at SarahPAC’s website to see what we mean. Right there fronted out is a big thank-you note from new Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. The Cruz campaign got the legal maximum of $10,000 from SarahPAC, and we would not be surprised if the group had promoted Senator Cruz to its own donors, bringing the underdog Texan lots more dough.

“The Governor’s vision and the support of patriots like you helped transform my long-shot candidacy into victory on election night,” writes Cruz.

He adds that he’s not the only senator to benefit from SarahPAC support, and cites as evidence Florida’s Marco Rubio, Kentucky’s Rand Paul, Nebraska’s Deb Fischer, and Arizona’s Jeff Flake, among others.

SarahPAC has long been an effective fundraiser. It brought in about $5 million in the 2012 cycle, which puts it near the top of leadership PACs in terms of total dollars. The question now is how Palin will use it going forward. In the past she’s spent much of its money on herself.

The invaluable Center for Responsive Politics has crunched the numbers, and it figures that Palin’s PAC donated $298,500 to other federal candidates in the run-up to last November’s election. That’s not a lot in the context of $5 million in receipts. (Palin did steer $5,000 to the Romney presidential campaign.)

It’s true that Palin donated $420,000 to other political committees. But she also used a lot of cash earlier in the cycle to pay for her bus tour, fundraising, and stuff that may fall in the category of “getting ready to run, if I decide to.”

In July 2011, for instance, Palin used more than $12,000 from her PAC to pay for a trip to Israel. Some $5,700 of that went to a tour company that specializes in custom “biblically oriented tours through the Holy Land,” according to the Open Secrets blog of the Center for Responsive Politics.

Of course, Palin’s own electoral future now seems settled, at least for the short term. So it will be interesting to see if she moves to donate a higher percentage of her political cash to other Republicans, or tries to use her donor list to support a low-level, continuing precampaign for herself.

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