Eyeing a 2016 bid, Rick Santorum forms "testing the waters" account

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has set up a testing the waters account in anticipation of a possible 2016 presidential bid, CBS News has learned.

The account allows Santorum, a Republican who ran for president in 2012, to raise and spend money under the same caps governing an actual campaign committee ($2,700 for individual donors, and $5,000 for couples.) Unlike a campaign committee, though, a testing the waters account does not have to disclose its finances.

Rick Santorum weighs in on 2016

"He just formed the testing the waters account this week," Santorum adviser Matt Beynon told CBS News. "His timeframe for making a formal decision on a bid is still what it was - by late spring, he'll make an announcement."

Beynon said Santorum has been "very encouraged by the support that he's received from folks all across the country."

"The message he's been talking about for the last few years is resonating," he said. "That encouragement led him in the direction of taking some more formal steps."

Santorum currently has a political action committee and a 501(c)4 non-profit advocacy group, both named Patriot Voices. The PAC has, up until now, served as his primary political arm. The PAC and the 501(c)4 have raised a combined $10 million dollars in the last two years, Beynon said.

The only other potential 2016 GOP candidate who's announced he's testing the waters is South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. Two Republicans - real estate developer Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson - have taken the more concrete step of forming an exploratory committee. And another two Republicans - Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul - have already formally launched their bids.

While candidates in past cycles have usually taken the interim step of forming an exploratory committee or a testing the waters account before formally jumping into the race, Cruz and Paul dispensed with the half steps this year.

Santorum to GOP: How’d McCain, Romney work out for you?

Beynon said the moves by other candidates aren't having any impact on Santorum's decision-making process.

"As someone who's gone through that ringer before, the senator's paving his own path," he said. "What other people decide to do is what other people decide to do, and he's very comfortable in the path he's choosing to follow."

Santorum was elected to the Senate in 1994. He served two terms and was defeated by Democrat Bob Casey in 2006. His 2012 presidential bid, though ultimately unsuccessful, saw some early victories thanks to a strong showing among conservative voters and evangelical Christians. He won the Iowa caucuses by a razor-thin margin and carried 10 additional states before conceding to eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

CBS News senior political editor Steve Chaggaris contributed to this report