WASHINGTON - About a half-dozen advisers to former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty are volunteering their services or working for very little pay, two campaign aides said on Wednesday.

Pawlenty's camp portrays it as a sign of dedication. But according to the Washington Post, which first reported the story, the revelation "raises questions about the campaign's resources" to compete against the likes of presidential rivals Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann.

Pawlenty aides, feeling burned by the Post's account, pushed back against the story.

"The demonstrated motivations of the senior team on this campaign have nothing to do with money and everything to do with friendship and belief in Tim Pawlenty," said campaign consultant Phil Musser, one of five top aides identified in the Post as working for next to nothing.

Although Musser says he has a modest contract with the Pawlenty campaign, campaign finance records show Musser's firm has collected at least $131,000 between November 2009 and March 2011 from Freedom First PAC, Pawlenty's political organization, and from Pawlenty's presidential exploratory committee.

Musser, a top GOP strategist and senior adviser to Romney in 2007, noted that both he and his wife have given the maximum $2,500-per-election in contributions to the Pawlenty campaign.

"I'm doing this -- as are the others -- because we believe in Tim Pawlenty, we're committed to the success of the campaign, and we want to set an example that reflects frugality," Musser said. "It's an approach we've taken since the first day, and has nothing to do with events."

Musser's take is similar to the account of a Pawlenty aide quoted anonymously in the Post. "Our consultants are either volunteering their time or working for peanuts," the source told the paper. "This may be hard for some in Washington to accept, but they're on Team Pawlenty for the right reasons."

The same source, who later spoke to the Star Tribune, indicated that Pawlenty's fundraising has gone up and down -- one down period coming since Pawlenty's much-criticized performance in last week's GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire.

The books close on the year's second-quarter filing period next week. But the Pawlenty campaign rejected any suggestion Wednesday that the compensation for its top advisers is a sign of financial trouble.

"Our fundraising is on track to raising what we need to execute our strategy in the early states and win the nomination," said Pawlenty spokesman Alex Conant.

Looking to July

Analysts, pundits and potential donors all have their eyes on next month's Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings, which can be an indicator of an organization's strength and support heading into the 2012 election. So far Pawlenty has struggled to keep up with better-funded rivals like Romney and Bachmann.

Besides Musser, those working for limited pay include strategists Jon Lerner, Sara Taylor Fagen, Terry Nelson and Brian Hook.

Musser, president of New Frontier Strategy, a Washington, D.C., area consulting firm, has seen the Pawlenty campaign go from zero to top-tier status over the course of the past two years. He and others say it's not unusual for experienced, top-flight advisers to take on candidates out of commitment rather than financial reward, especially in the early stages of a campaign.

"When I started to help with Tim Pawlenty," he said, "it was me and him and a bunch of business cards schlepping around this country."

Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.