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.PlayDaniel Acker/Getty Images
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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.

But among the 2012 GOP candidates, Newt Gingrich owes the most, hands down. He owed $4.9 million as of his last disclosure Sept. 30, but after renting his list of supporters and reaching agreements with creditors, he'll close the year owing $4.6 million, spokesman R.C. Hammond said.

"Repayment doesn't come overnight," Hammond told ABC, calling it a "steady effort" and noting that after Republicans' loss in 2012, reviving donors' interest will take time. "It will be over a matter of years that the debt will be paid down."

As he campaigned in Florida against a well-funded Romney machine, with victory in sight after a win in South Carolina, Gingrich's campaign exhausted its financial resources while fighting back against Romney's barrage of attack ads.

"You know, Romney spent $20 million in Florida in three weeks, and I think some of our guys decided to try to match him," Gingrich told ABC News in April.

His list of 130 creditors in 31 states is long and tangled. As of his last FEC filing, Gingrich owed rent in at least two states, and utilities in at least three. He owed the South Carolina GOP $4,400 for lodging. He owed more than $440,000 to his private-security company, Patriot Group of Warrenton, Va.

He still had not paid Moby Dick Airways for more than $1 million in air-travel costs. He owed former primary competitor Herman Cain Solutions more than $16,500 for "strategic consulting-travel." He owed JC Watts Enterprises for consulting.

He owed a $10,000 insurance deductable to a firm in Atlanta. He owed Twitter $12,763 for a "media buy." He owed "ballot access fees" to firms or individuals in three states, including $4,000 in Virginia, where he did not appear on the ballot. He is disputing $217,500 in software licensing fees from three companies, and another $6,537 in travel costs to one individual. And he owes himself $647,518 for travel.

Two of his creditors, both small businesses that spoke with ABC News about Gingrich's debts in May, say they're still frustrated with the unpaid bills.

"It's very disappointing that you do the work for them and you meet their deadlines and jump through all their hoops, and this happens," Vic Buttermore of Signs Unlimited SEA in Ocala, Fla., told ABC News in a recent phone interview.

Gingrich still owes him more than $13,000 for printing and shipping "Newt 2012" lawn signs to a handful of states. Buttermore says he has ended up printing the signs at "a big loss" after costs including shipping.

"Every time we called up there someone else was new and they were checking on it," Buttermore said.

Event setup company Pro Production Services of Phoenix, Ariz., doubts whether it will be paid more than $35,000 for a handful of Gingrich events in Nevada before the Feb. 4 caucuses.

"I don't think anybody, when you're running a business, is happy to get stiffed on any amount of money," Ryan Driscoll, a project manager for Pro Production Services, said.

Driscoll said most of the debt was cost-fronted by Pro Production.

"The debt that he owes us includes our labor, transport, lodging, and then also the equipment rental," Driscoll said. "That's why it was such a big deal to begin with for us; that's a lot of money to just float out there."

Not all Gingrich's creditors are so mad, and several declined to comment on the debts he owes them. For consultants, media buyers and others in the campaign industry, delayed payment goes with the territory.

Another class of creditor, meanwhile, will turn a profit on the 2012 campaign: banks. The parties each took out multimillion-dollar loans and, according to his last disclosure, Romney's campaign still owed $3 million of a $20 million loan from Bank of Georgetown, which will reap the benefits of a 4.5 percent interest rate.