Campaign Debt Outlives Presidential Race

PHOTO: Volunteers make phone calls to re-elect U.S. President Barack Obama at the campaigns Field Office in Chicago, Illinois, Nov. 5, 2012.
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The race might be over, but it hasn't all been paid for.

Presidential campaigns still owe millions of dollars to consultants, former staffers, phone companies, software vendors, database management firms, direct-mail firms, sign printers, event-productions companies, and banks; in other words, nearly every kind of entity with which a campaign does business.

Some campaigns owe money back to the candidates themselves, and one owes money to a former rival.

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The total won't be known until campaigns file their next disclosures next month, but Obama and Romney owed nearly $8.5 million combined (all of Romney's debt owed on a $3 million loan), according to their Oct. 17 pre-election disclosures. Of course, with more than $146 million in the bank, they likely have enough cash to cover it.

The failed GOP primary candidates, however, still owe their share: more than $7 million, according to their latest FEC filings in September and October.

For campaign creditors, getting paid can be difficult, and delayed payments can be frustrating. Some are small businesses, to whom smaller debts are a big deal. And some of them aren't happy.

When Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign wrecked a rented golf cart, styled after a Rolls Royce, it paid the rental and repair fees almost a full year late, according to Turf Cars, Inc. of Council Bluffs, Iowa. Turf Cars is still miffed.

"They pretty much destroyed it," the company's marketing director, who asked not to be named, told ABC News. "We ended up suing her."

Turf Cars says it received the full bill on Aug. 1, about $3,200 including $688 for repairs, after the campaign for the Minnesota Republican rented several transport-sized golf carts in early August 2011.

"We're just a company of seven people," the marketing director said. "That's a lot of money to us."

Some creditors don't mind waiting for their cash. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a GOP presidential primary challenger this year, still owes $30,000 to Front Row Motorsports in Statesville, N.C., for the Daytona 500 car he sponsored in February, but the company isn't sweating it.

"Those guys were good partners, and we were honored to help them out and represent them," Robin Johnson, Front Row's chief marketing officer, said. "If they owe us a little money, and my understanding is we're going to be made whole before the end of the year, we're good with that."

Candidate debt is commonplace, and the most notable examples are Hillary Clinton, whose 2008 presidential campaign still owed hundreds of thousands of dollars earlier this year; and Rudy Giuliani, whose 2008 campaign still owes $2.6 million. Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, is in a class by himself, still owing nearly $2.7 million more than 20 years after running for president in 1984.

Half of the failed GOP presidential primary candidates have clean balance sheets. Jon Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul, Rick Perry have zero debt, according to their FEC disclosures. For the other half, some of the debts are complicated.

Herman Cain's campaign owed $450,000 as of Sept. 30, all of it to Herman Cain. The candidate is owed $175,000 in "travel expenses" and $275,000 for a series of five loans, most of them $50,000 or less, which Cain made to his campaign between June and August of 2011. His campaign has already paid him back for eight loans totaling $400,000.

Santorum's campaign owed more than $1.1 million, and Bachmann's owed more than $530,000, as of their FEC filings in September and October, respectively, which is far more than they had in the bank, casting doubt on whether their 33 creditors will ever get paid.

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, meanwhile, reported more than $227,000 in debt, while Green Party candidate Jill Stein reported $44,000; again, more than they had.

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