2012 presidential race: Expense reports give peek at candidates’ priorities, styles

July 17, 2011

Mitt Romney is big into political consultants and security guards, underscoring the establishment nature of his campaign. Newt Gingrich is so fond of the Internet and luxury jets that he got himself $1 million in hock.

And President Obama has devoted about a third of his $14 million in early expenditures to fundraising — suggesting that it really does take money to make money.

These and other details, gleaned from the first major spending reports of the 2012 campaign, provide a revealing look at the contrasting priorities and styles of the White House hopefuls. Taken together, the candidates burned through $32 million for telemarketing calls, posh hotel rooms, makeup artists and myriad other expenses, even with the first ballots still half a year away.

The records also help show where the candidates are focusing their money.

Tim Pawlenty outpaced his rivals by spending $200,000 at businesses in Iowa, while Romney showered nearly $750,000 on vendors in New Hampshire, where he hopes to command the field.

Then there are the extraneous but amusing details.

The campaign of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) has a hankering for burgers, barbecue and farmers markets, while Pawlenty’s staff dropped more than $600 on teleprompters and cosmetic services for his campaign kickoff in Des Moines. Moby Dick Airways provided more than $500,000 worth of charter service for Gingrich, who has yet to pay most of the bill.

The spending patterns seem to back up many of the political stereotypes attached to the major candidates: Obama as grass-roots organizer turned campaigner in chief; Romney the chief executive of a by-the-books campaign; and Pawlenty the eager newcomer struggling to get ahead.

Romney, who regularly highlights his experience as a former Massachusetts governor and
equity-fund manager, spent 18 percent of his budget on administrative expenses, far higher than his GOP opponents.

He reported nearly $5.7 million in expenditures, including $1 million for administrative costs and $2 million on fundraising and outside consultants. But he still ended June far ahead of his Republican rivals, with about $12 million in the bank.

“We’re running a lean but strong campaign in order to most effectively communicate Governor Romney’s message that he is the one candidate with 25 years of real-world experience who can get this economy going again to create good jobs,” spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. “We will be competitive in every state.”

Pawlenty, meanwhile, has uncommonly steep payroll costs, which may be why he has gone through most of the $4.5 million he’s raised. The former Minnesota governor spent more than $580,000 of his $2.5 million in expenses on salaries, which is a notably higher percentage than most of the other candidates.

“We’re focused on building a grass-roots organization that’s focused on Iowa and New Hampshire,” said Pawlenty spokesman Alex Conant. “So we’ve invested our resources wisely in a grass-roots team that can do well in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries.”

Obama, meanwhile, has more money for everything, spending $5 million on fundraising and hiring some 150 campaign staffers. The president raised about $85 million in contributions between his own campaign and the national Democratic Party, leaving him with nearly four times as much money in reserve as Romney.

The fledgling campaign of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has spent nearly $700,000 on mailings and fundraising in a matter of weeks. Bachmann and Obama have uncommonly high fundraising and mail costs — probably reflecting their heavy emphasis on small, grass-roots donors.

But Obama has also spent lavishly to entertain rich donors at $35,800-a-plate fundraisers in conjunction with the Democratic National Committee, including $117,000 at the Broadway Theatre and $185,000 at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, both in New York. His campaign paid Sony Pictures $102,000 for catering and site rental after holding two events there in April.

An Obama spokesman declined to comment on expenditures. Bachmann spokeswoman Alice Stewart noted that some data, such as payroll, are incomplete because Bachmann did not launch her campaign activities until mid-June.

For Gingrich, the latest reports reveal the wreckage of a campaign in crisis after an exodus of staff in June amid disagreements over spending and strategy. Gingrich reported nearly $1.8 million in expenditures and outstanding debts of $1 million, including about $450,000 for the jet service. (Romney, by contrast, spent about $150,000 on private charters.)

Gingrich also spent nearly $800,000 on Internet and software-related services from three technology firms. Spokesman R.C. Hammond said the bills were largely due to high start-up costs for a new Web site.

Hammond said the campaign has bounced back since last month, when he says Gingrich discovered the scope of his financial problems.

“When we look at our numbers by week, we saw a storm in the middle of June,” he said. “And we’ve since weathered that storm.”

In the technology world, Romney’s campaign spent $35,000 on Apple computers and software, while the Obama campaign spent $157,000 for licensing from Microsoft.

Romney spent $500 with the Mortgage Bankers Association for subscriptions and $400 for Skype Internet phone service. His campaign also spent $50,000 with three security firms.

Some of the financial reports provide an astonishing level of detail on spending. Pawlenty’s campaign, for example, spent $7.07 at a Godfather’s Pizza restaurant in Winterset, Iowa.

Godfather’s was formerly run by another Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain, who has attracted a tea party following and raised $2 million in individual contributions. There is no sign that Cain spent any campaign money at Godfather’s.

Deputy editor, National politics
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