Newt Gingrich ends his White House dream today with his political committee facing a mountain of debts -- owing about $4 million to scores of businesses and campaign workers around the country who fear they will never get paid.
Campaign watchdogs said the size of Gingrich's debt is extraordinary -- and could have been avoided if the candidate and his team had been more disciplined.
"He was reckless in running up these bills, especially in the last month or so of the campaign when it was quite clear that Mitt Romney would be the nominee," said Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for the watchdog group Citizen Union.
The campaign has been dogged by financial problems since last summer, but its cash crunch accelerated in recent weeks. It finished March with $4.3 million in debts, an alarming increase from $1.5 million at the end of February, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
The campaign raised $1.6 million in March, spent $2 million and reported having $1.2 million cash on hand.
Help may be on the way. USA Today reports that Gingrich, in an interview, said he is embracing Mitt Romney's candidacy, and Romney and the Republican National Committee have offered to be helpful in retiring Gingrich's debt.
Relief can't come soon enough for the Gingrich campaign's anxious creditors. The campaign owes Moby Dick Airways $1.1 million for travel and charter flights.; the Patriot Group, a Virginia security company, $449,502 for helping to protect the candidate; and McKenna, Long and Aldridge, a law firm with offices in Atlanta, $183,658 for legal services, the reports show.
But many of the campaign's creditors are small businesses that say they will suffer major hardship if they are not paid.
In Phoenix, a company called Pro-Production Services is owed $32,506 for providing stages, lighting and sound equipment for a series of campaign appearances by Gingrich in Nevada last January.
"We floated quite a bit of money -- a lot of out-of-pocket costs that we covered," said Ryan Driscoll, a project manager for the company. "I am a little worried. Nobody wants to lose 32 grand."
Vic Buttermore, owner of Signs Unlimited in Ocala, Fla., says he's "keeping my fingers crossed" the Gingrich campaign will pony up the $15,000 it still owes for an order of 25,000 "Newt 2012" lawn signs
"Am I nervous? Oh yeah, by all means," he said. "They keep telling us, 'We've got you covered, you will be paid.' But I have my doubts. I really do. That's a lot of money for a small company."
Moshe Starkman of Chevy Chase, Md., is among the dozens of frustrated former campaign staffers waiting for back pay. Starkman, who helped the campaign build grassroots support, is owed for more than three months of work.
"You hear the payment is coming 'next week,' or 'later,' or 'in a couple of days.' They always give excuses," he said. "I've had to spend my savings."
Gingrich told ABC News on April 10 that his "management team got very excited in Florida" and went on a spending spree hoping to beat Romney in Florida's Jan. 31 primary. Romney went on to beat Gingrich 46 percent to 32, a turning point in the campaign.