The Minnesota Republican Party is bringing in a "turnaround expert" to work with its interim chair on finance issues, an acknowledgement that the party needs a shake-up.

Mike Vekich, a businessman from whom former Gov. Tim Pawlenty often sought advice, will "head up the party's efforts to deal with its finances relative to its priorities in the 2012 election cycle," according to a GOP release on Monday.

The party has $581,000 of debt heading into the 2012 election. It also has unpaid bills from the 2010 gubernatorial recount and was fined $170,000 by the Federal Election Commission this summer.

The state GOP also lacks an elected chair. Tony Sutton resigned abruptly two weeks ago, leaving Deputy Chairwoman Kelly Fenton to assume his duties as interim head of the party. Party activists will meet on Dec. 31 in St. Cloud to elect a new chair.

Vekich said in a statement that "my role is assessing the situation and quickly defining the organization's strengths and weaknesses."

Vekich had been a go-to guy for Pawlenty. The former governor appointed him to seven state spots, including acting state lottery director when that organization was troubled. Vekich also led a tax reform group that later came up with solutions mostly rejected by Pawlenty. Vekich also served on Republican Tom Emmer's would-be gubernatorial transition team.

Vekich, who is taking on the finance examination as a volunteer, will report to Fenton until a new chair is elected. Heather Rubash, a party spokeswoman, said the new chair will decide what kind of relationship Vekich will have with the party after that. Vekich said he will not be a candidate for chair.

In addition to Vekich's close look at the books, the party formed two committees last month to keep a close eye on party finances. The committees were charged with recommending cost-cutting moves -- some of which have already been enacted -- and reviewing all party contracts and finances.

Meanwhile, candidates for the chair spot have started to emerge. Brendon Sawalich, vice president at Starkey Hearing Technologies and 2009 candidate for chair, has announced a run, and others are said to be interested but have not made a final decision.

Ratchel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @rachelsb