Being on the Fox News payroll has its advantages.

Not only did five potential Republican candidates get regular paychecks from the network last year, but they also got something even more valuable: airtime

Liberal watchdog group Media Matters found that the five received about $55 million in free advertising over the course of more than 85 hours of appearances in 2010.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee appeared for almost 48 hours. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin had nearly 14 hours of appearances.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was given close to 12 hours. Former senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum and former UN Ambassador under George W. Bush John Bolton both received about six hours.

Because Huckabee hosted a show on the network, Media Matters estimated that he received the bulk of Fox News' donation at $31 million.

Advertisers would have spent about $7.5 million each for Palin and Gingrich to appear.

Santorum and Bolton received less than $5 million each in ad-value equivalency.

Each of the five has hinted at a possible presidential run in 2012.

"I'm engaged in the internal deliberations candidly," the November 21 issue of New York Times Magazine quoted Palin as saying.

The Des Moines Register reported in November that Gingrich said he was "making personal arrangements that would allow him to launch a campaign."

On November 15, Huckabee told Fox News' Alan Colmes, "The one nice thing, whether I should decide to run or not, is that more people at least would know me by what I actually believe and say, as opposed to what some opponent has defined me to be, and that's kind of encouraging."

"If I were to get into this, I would certainly not be one of the favorites, so doing well out of the box would be much more important to me than to some of the more well-known candidates," Santorum told National Review Online in October.

In September, Bolton told Fox Business Network, "I'm thinking about it."

Chris Wallace, the network's lead news anchor, revealed late last year that the network plans to turn the Republican Party's 2012 primary elections into a "production of Fox News," similar to American Idol.

That may be good news for GOP financiers but not so much for voter awareness. A University of Maryland study published last month found that extended exposure to Fox News had the tendency to confuse voters, making them more likely to believe a number of pervasive untruths.