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.
"You know, Romney spent $20 million in Florida in three weeks, and I think some of our guys decided to try to match him and we didn't have Wall Street (support)," Gingrich said. "I am going to spend some time paying it off. It is something I have done several times in my career."
None of the other Republican also-rans for president are as deeply in the red as Gingrich's campaign. Michele Bachmann's campaign has about $1 million in outstanding obligations, Rick Santorum owes $1.9 million and Rick Perry has only $14,463 to pay off.
Tim Pawlenty dropped out of the race owing $435,542 -- but Romney's campaign helped him raise money to retire the debt in return for Pawlenty's endorsement.
Campaign debts can haunt unsuccessful candidates for years, symbols of failure and futility they are unable to forget.
But losing candidates like Gingrich who hold no office face the biggest challenge in trying to retire their debts. The reason is simple: They are in no position to help donors or influence public policy.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani still owes two dozen creditors $1.5 million from his unsuccessful 2008 run for President, while Hillary Clinton's campaign has $245,000 in unpaid bills.
Democrat John Edwards' 2004 presidential campaign still owes $333,500. The political committee of Republican Alan Keyes is saddled with a $301,000 debt from his failed 2000 run for president.
But in the history of campaign debts, Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) stands alone. He still owed banks, lawyers, a bumper-sticker maker, 161 former campaign workers and other creditors nearly $3 million more than 20 years after his failed run for president in 1984.
Glenn waved a white flag in 2005, notifying the Federal Election Commission that he was unable to pay them back. The following year the agency gave him permission to disband his campaign committee.
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