The Republican nomination battle may be over, but the costs are still being tallied for the losers, who are facing a sea of red ink totaling $13.3 million, according to a Newsmax analysis.
“Apparently under our laws, the FEC can keep a file open and technically a campaign will never close even if their debt is still exposed,” observes GOP strategist Bradley Blakeman, who served as a senior advisor during President George W. Bush’s two winning runs for the White House in 2000 and 2004.
Public documents maintained by the Federal Election Commission in Washington, D.C. reveal the top five campaigns running the biggest deficits include that of former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who tops the list with $5.1 million in debts from his 2012 bid.
Next is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at $4.3 million, followed by Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania with $1.9 million; Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann with just over $1 million; and Atlanta businessman Herman Cain with $450,000.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry owes a paltry $14,464 as of the most recent March 31 reporting period. That’s even less than the $105,000 owed by Rep. Thaddeus G. McCotter of Michigan, from his run.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, are the big winners of the campaign season thus far.
Romney has no campaign debt as of the reporting date along with Paul and Pawlenty.
It’s much easier for a candidate to raise money when he or she is surging in the polls than when they are forced to wind down their campaigns, which is why candidates sometimes appear to be lingering a bit longer than they should or why they merely “suspend” their campaigns, adds political analyst and Democratic pollster Doug Schoen.
“If I said to you, ‘look I’m still running, would you give me a donation?’ If you like me you’d say ‘maybe,’” Schoen explains, adding that the conversation would go a bit differently once the candidate leaves the race.
“If I said ‘look I’m suspending my campaign but I have a debt. Will you give me money? You lost. You’re out. You’re done.”
Federal election rules allow candidates to continue to raise money even after they lose an election subject to certain limits, with the stipulation that any funds be designated for the election in which the debt was incurred in most cases, and that contributions never exceed the total debt amassed by the campaign.
Blakeman, a professor of Politics and Public Policy at Georgetown University, said that famed astronaut and former Sen. John Glenn chipped away at his campaign debt for 22 years after the 1984 election — far longer than it took him to first orbit the earth.
“He chipped away at it over years, but he never raised enough to settle. And in 2006 the FEC closed out his campaign and marked the debts unpaid,” according to Blakeman.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had $25 million in campaign red ink from her 2008 run. But even after President Barack Obama appealed to his supporters, Clinton still had to take a personal loss of some $13 million, said Blakeman.
Most of the candidates who run for such a lofty office are wealthy to begin with, he adds, and they generally protect their personal assets.
“They’re wealthy in their own right, but they’ve protected their own wealth by apparently not entering into any agreements that personally bound them,” he said.
Even so, the leftover campaign debt often makes it more difficult to run in the future. “Let’s say I got burned in 2008, you think I’m not going to want payment up front or that I’m not going to want my debts personally guaranteed by the candidate?” asked Blakeman. “It’s much harder for these people to run again when they still have debt outstanding.”
So why would anyone want to do business with political campaigns at all knowing that there will only be one candidate who secures the nomination?
“That’s an excellent question,” Blakeman opines. “Because they get suckered in by the promise that they are going to be getting so much more business if the guy becomes the nominee of the Republican Party.”
Ditto for the Democrats.
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