WASHINGTON -- Much like Donald Trump today, at one point Newt Gingrich held the frontrunner position in the 2012 Republican primary election. His campaign plodded on using borrowed money for months after most people realized Gingrich didn't have a chance, and when Newt 2012 finally ended, it crashed in a heap of debt that may never be repaid.
The campaign still owes $4.6 million to dozens of businesses that provided things like transportation, voter canvassing and yard signs. The former speaker of the House’s debts put him in company with fringe weirdo Lyndon LaRouche, a perennial presidential pretender since the 1980s who owes $3.2 million across four campaign accounts.
The next-highest accumulator of debt among non-active presidential campaigns is President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign committee, which owes $2.4 million in debt. The big difference: The Obama campaign can bring in big money by renting its massive voter data base. Federal Election Commission records show that the Gingrich campaign’s list has only brought in a little more than $1 million since he dropped out of the race, and his debt has only declined by $300,000.
Gingrich did not respond to requests for comment sent to multiple spokespeople.
There are still a number of open campaign accounts by past failed presidential candidates with large debts, but none reach the heights of Gingrich’s. Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, a Republican and Libertarian Party candidate in 2012, owes $1.4 million, and MSNBC host Al Sharpton owes $925,714 from his 2004 presidential bid. Even disgraced former Democratic Sen. John Edwards still owes $331,586 from his 2008 campaign.
So, what exactly does Gingrich owe so much money for? The biggest service that he has not paid for yet was personal air travel during the campaign. He owes $1.8 million to charter jet service provider Moby Dick Airways, business travel provider AirPlus and to himself for jet fare. (Candidates can receive reimbursement from their campaign committee to cover their own costs for things like travel.)
Gingrich’s largest debts are to a host of consultants and firms that helped him with strategy, polling, advertising, telemarketing and all of the other routine activities needed to run a presidential campaign.
Bo Harmon said Newt's campaign still owes him about $25,000 from services rendered in 2012. Harmon said he organized volunteers who made phone calls and knocked on doors in Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada, and Arizona. Harmon himself spent three months living out of hotels, paying for his rooms, airfare, rental cars and meals. He expected the Gingrich campaign would pay him back. It didn't.
"I contacted them regularly for two years after the campaign ended to find out if there was a way to be paid, all with no reply from the campaign," Harmon said. "Especially with someone like Newt, you hope they conduct themselves in a different way than that. So it's very disappointing. He's not the first politician to disappoint his supporters, and he won't be the last."
Campaign documents filed with the FEC say the debt to Harmon is $5,639.99 for travel. The campaign documents also indicate a debt of $50,500 to 4 Components Strategies LLC, a firm for which Harmon says he was one of four principals.
Harmon said he used to be much angrier, but his anger has faded with time and the sad realization that he will probably never get his money back.
"Who's going to contribute to Newt 2012?" Harmon asked.
Gordon James of Phoenix, Arizona, figured someone who had loaned Gingrich even more -- Moby Dick Airways, for instance, to which Gingrich owes $1 million -- would initiate a lawsuit of some kind that he could join. It's the main way that companies and individuals could go after the money they are owed, but it hasn't happened.
The FEC forms show that Newt 2012 owes $127,727 to James' company, which employs 14 people and handled event planning, media outreach and logistics for the campaign. James said it wasn't easy to absorb the loss.
"My life was upended. I had to make a lot of financial adjustments to survive," he said. He added that he stopped paying himself a salary and used savings to cover his bills.
Massive campaign debt does not appear to have hampered Gingrich's lifestyle -- including exotic vacations and fancy events -- glimpses of which he is continuously sharing on social media. As HuffPost's Christina Wilkie reported in 2012, Gingrich has a long history of launching political organizations and moving on as they collapse under a pile of debt. Legally, Gingrich himself is never liable for the money owed.
James said he doesn't harbor bad feelings toward Gingrich. He regrets that he didn't pull out of the campaign before the Florida primary.
"I let my emotions get away from me," he said. "I wanted him to win. I thought he was going to win. I thought it was going to be a great ending to a hard-fought battle."