A top aide to Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) left the governor's official office to start his own firm and manage an independent expenditure group in the state.

Brian McClung, the deputy chief of staff for Pawlenty in his governor's office, joined "MN Forward," a new group representing business groups in the state.

McClung had served in Pawlenty's office for six years as communications director and deputy chief of staff. He'll leave Pawlenty, a possible 2012 presidential candidate, and will start his own firm in the state as well, McClung Communications & Public Relations LLC.

“Brian is best known as the public voice of our office, but he has been much more,” the governor said in a statement. “He’s been one of my closest advisors during both terms and I greatly value his insights, loyalty and expertise. Brian is an integral part of our team and I know he will continue to have great success.”   

McClung's departure comes as Pawlenty has steadily worked to advance a potential run for the White House, assembling and configuring staff to run a campaign over the next two years. McClung is seen as someone who could continue to serve Pawlenty in the future, despite his departure from Pawlenty's official team Wednesday.