South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley reacts at right after Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, gets the crowd to sing "Happy Birthday" for her during a rally at his campaign headquarters in Charleston, S.C. Charles Dharapak/AP
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South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a key supporter of Mitt Romney, received $62,500 in campaign contributions since 2008 from state and federal political committees set up by supporters of Mitt Romney, records show.

Funds came from so-called “leadership PACs” in five different states and the nation’s capital. By spreading the funds around, Romney’s supporters were able to give far more than the state limit of $3,500 per election.

The contributions came from “Free & Strong America” leadership PACs, run by Romney supporters, a Center for Public Integrity analysis of campaign finance records found.

Leadership PACs are separate from campaign committees and are established by “candidate sponsors” to help other candidates win elections. Presidential candidates have used these PACs to contribute money to elected officials in order to gain clout and possibly win endorsements.

Such PACs basically acts as subsidiary campaign committees, said Tara Malloy of the Campaign Legal Center.

Haley endorsed Romney in December. While some have said her endorsement won’t make a difference to Romney’s campaign, Candice Nelson, the director of American University’s Campaign Management Institute, said gaining support in the Tea Party, which favors the governor — a group he has struggled to win over — can’t hurt.

“Nikki Haley was important to Romney,” Nelson said. “What she brings to the table is a more conservative point of view and the support of the Tea Party members.”

Romney largely skipped over South Carolina in 2008, ceding it to winner Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who came in a close second. South Carolina’s significant population of evangelical voters has not looked on the Mormon candidate favorably in the past.

Romney is favored to win the state’s primary contest Saturday, though his lead has slipped in recent days.

Newt Gingrich’s “American Solutions” leadership PAC gave $3,500 to Haley. “America’s Foundation,” Rick Santorum’s leadership PAC, also gave Haley $3,500 as well as $3,500 to another Republican gubernatorial candidate, Gresham Barrett, in 2010, campaign finance records show.

Leadership PACs are barred from spending money directly on the sponsor-candidate’s campaign, but lax spending rules mean leadership PAC money can be spent on everything from supporting other candidates to travel and fine dining to hiring family members as staff.

“It can be used basically as a slush fund for the candidate,” Malloy said. “There’s almost no restrictions on its use whatsoever.”

Haley’s office declined to comment for this story. The Romney campaign did not return a call.

Anne Farris Rosen contributed to this report.

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