WASHINGTON (AP) _ A key GOP fund-raiser among grass-roots conservatives has signed on with Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Jack Oliver, who raised nearly $3 million last year for Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft, will become Bush's finance director if the governor gets into the race, a Bush ally said Monday.

Oliver, 30, already is working for Bush in Austin.

``He's a supporter of the governor, and he's offered to help, and he's down here to help out, contingent on an announcement about a decision regarding an exploratory committee,'' Bush spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said.

Word is that Bush will announce in mid-March he is forming an exploratory campaign committee to test the presidential waters. He already is building a campaign team.

As director of Ashcroft's fund-raising committee, Oliver built an impressive mailing list of more than 120,000 donors from the freshman senator's conservative base.

Ashcroft's performance was considered one of the strongest among those who have dropped out of White House contention. In an interview Monday, the senator said Oliver developed strong ties to conservatives.

``It's certainly fair to say Jack is familiar with that community, and there are certainly people in that community who have a high degree of comfort with Jack,'' Ashcroft said.

A native of Cape Girardeau, Mo., Oliver was Ashcroft's finance director in his 1994 Senate race and has worked and campaigned for a long line of Missouri Republican politicians.