NEW ORLEANS -- Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's political action committee raised $566,000 in the first quarter, it announced Saturday.

The total, which was announced in advance of Pawlenty's video address to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference here this afternoon, is less than half what the PAC raised in the fourth quarter of 2009 -- its first in existence.

The Freedom First PAC has now raised a total of $1.84 million. Pawlenty, who is exploring a 2012 presidential run, has begun endorsing candidates for Congress in 2010.

“President Obama and Congressional Democrats are taking our country in the wrong direction and Americans have had enough,” Pawlenty said. “We need to put freedom first again in America, and stop the out-of-control spending in Washington. The early support for our organization will help us elect candidates who can rein in Washington and renew the promise of freedom.”

Despite the dropoff in the first quarter, Pawlenty's six-month total puts him on pace with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's PAC, which raised nearly $3 million in 2009. Romney's PAC hasn't released fundraising totals for the first quarter yet.