By Kim Dixon
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann saw a jump in political donations in May, aided in large part by small contributions as she revs up her fundraising machine for the 2012 Republican nomination.
Bachmann, a conservative Tea Party favorite in the House of Representatives, saw one of her two political committees -- MichelePAC -- bring in about $214,000 in May, compared with $173,000 for April, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission posted on Monday.
The three-term Minnesota congresswoman, who raised more than all of her House colleagues during the 2010 midterm election cycle, declared she would be a presidential candidate last week.
Bachmann, 55, is founder and head of the House Tea Party Caucus. She was one of the first elected officials to court the movement that helped fuel Republican gains in the 2010 midterm elections with calls for spending cuts and reduced government.
As impressive as Bachmann's fundraising has been, she will have a campaign cash rival in Mitt Romney, the billionaire former Massachusetts governor leading in many national polls.
Romney's Free and Strong American political action committee raised $1.9 million in the first quarter of 2011. During his 2008 effort, Romney raised about $107 million.
Of the $214,000 MichelePAC reported in May, about $123,000 came from donations of under $200, according to FEC filings.
Leadership PACs are intended for politicians to back other candidates, not for campaigning. But finance experts say activities that PACs fund -- traveling around the country to political events, for example -- are clearly a boost in running for office.
Another value is developing a list of key donors, which can be purchased by her presidential committee, according to campaign finance expert Anthony Corrado at Colby College.
"That is the bigger value to her," Corrado said. "It is a way of getting started without officially getting started."
While many Republicans are sticking to economic issues, Bachmann unabashedly embraces her social conservatism. Bachmann is a fervent opponent of abortion and has said that gay marriage could lead to polygamy and "group marriage."
Bachmann also raises funds through her congressional committee, pulling in $1.7 million in the first quarter. She will likely now turn even more of her focus to that committee, as those funds can be used for her presidential run.
The first snapshot of the candidates' official presidential campaign committees will come early in July, when second quarter figures become available.
(Additional reporting by Todd Melby; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)