In politics as in life, Newt Gingrich is a man of expensive tastes and somewhat more modest resources. He limped out of the Republican primary on May 2, but his campaign remains the most indebted in the country according to Forbes research. As of March 31, 2012 (the most recent federal filing available), Gingrich's campaign owed consultants and vendors $4.3 million—including more than $1 million for private jet service and $271,775.58 to the candidate himself for travel expenses.
Primary candidates often outspend themselves in pursuit of their party's nomination, hoping that they'll be able to raise enough money to cover bills once they've united the party's donors. Even so, Gingrich's campaign debt is unusually large: Rick Santorum, who lasted nearly as long as Gingrich in the Republican nominating contest and won twice as many delegates, has less than half as much campaign debt as of March 31.
The second-largest campaign debt belongs to conspiracy theorist and perennial candidate Lyndon LaRouche, whose five political action committees have amassed debts of more than $3.2 million, including nearly 5,000 loans from individual donors to his 1984 campaign totaling over $1.7 million. Those loans are remnants of a practice for which LaRouche was convicted of fraud in 1988 when a jury found he had no intention of repaying them.
Aside from congresswoman Laura Richardson, everyone among the top 10 political debtors is a failed presidential primary candidate. Four of them ran in this year's Republican contest, but several are grappling with much older debts: federal campaign finance rules require that campaigns settle their outside debt before formally closing and that vendors pursue claims with campaigns as they would with any other business, lest outstanding bills become outright contributions. Even Bill Clinton's 1996 primary and general campaign organizations still exist because they have yet to settle $101,000 and $219,000 in disputed bills, respectively.
Below are the ten politicians with the most campaign debt as of March 31, 2012, according to their Federal Election Commission disclosures. Debt figures include outstanding obligations--unpaid bills from vendors--as well as loans from people outside of the campaigns. The figures exclude loans from the candidates themselves to their own campaigns--a common type of loan that in practice becomes a contribution when the candidate forgives the debt after the election.
1. Newt Gingrich (R): $4,300,053 Expenses from Gingrich's 2012 Republican primary run put him at the top of the political debtor list.
2. Lyndon LaRouche (Labor/D): $3,231,440 The eight-time presidential candidate took in loans worth $1,765,289.50 from individual supporters for his 1984 run. Federal prosecutors argued he had no intention of repaying those loans, and that he was using them to skirt contribution limits. LaRouche was convicted in 1988 on counts related to mail fraud and tax evasion and served five years in a federal prison hospital.
3. Rick Santorum (R): $1,989,929 Santorum's debt stems from his 2012 presidential primary campaign, which he ended on April 10.
4. Rudolph Giuliani (R): $1,506,988 In addition to unpaid bills from vendors and consultants totalling $1.5 million, Giuliani loaned himself $1.1 million for his 2008 presidential primary run.
5. Jon Huntsman (R): $1,371,943 Huntsman's total doesn't include the $4.1 million that the candidate loaned himself for his 2012 primary run.
6. Michele Bachmann (R): $1,068,566 Bachmann's congressional campaign committee is current on its expenses, but her brief presidential run left her owing over a million dollars--including more than $600,000 for telemarketing.
7. Al Sharpton (D): $896,213 Sharpton still owes outside lenders $7,500 and has unpaid bills amounting to $888,713 from his 2004 presidential run.
8. Dennis Kucinich (D): $557,383 Among the debts left over from Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign: $52,443 to the United States Treasury for using federal matching funds to campaign after he was declared ineligible for the funds. [PDF]
9. Alan Keyes (R): $483,020 Keyes most recently ran for office in 2008, but he still has $182,000 in unpaid bills from his 1996 presidential run (not counting a $5,000 loan by Keyes to his own campaign). [PDF]
10. Laura Richardson (D): $439,785 The congresswoman from California's 37th district is the only member of this list whose campaign debt didn't come from a presidential run and is also unusual for amassing such a large backlog of unpaid bills in elections with only token opposition. She won her congressional seat in a 2007 special election and successfully defended it in 2008 and 2010 with 75% and 69% of the vote, respectively.
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