- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 22, 2012

More people gave sizeable contributions to the foundering Republican presidential campaign of Rep. Ron Paul last month than to presumed nominee Mitt Romney, according to new disclosures that highlight the difficulty the former Massachusetts governor has had in motivating wide swaths of the party base.

Disclosure forms covering March, made public Friday, show that Mr. Romney received 18,461 donations of at least $200, while Mr. Paul received 18,835, though Mr. Romney overall raised far more money than the Texas lawmaker — nearly $13 million compared with $2.6 million.

Over the whole 2012 presidential primary campaign, Mr. Paul has taken in almost twice as many such donations as Mr. Romney — about 172,000 to 90,000. And in donations of less than $200, Mr. Romney was even outraised by former Sen. Rick Santorum, by $2.3 million to $1.7 million.

Instead of large numbers of contributors, Mr. Romney has relied more on wealthy associates giving maximum campaign contributions and unlimited super PAC donations — an impression the Romney super PAC underscored March 20 by paying an $800,000 fundraising commission to the company of Steve C. Roche, a massive performance-based bonus to a former top campaign official.

Meanwhile, the campaign of Newt Gingrich has amassed more than $4 million in debts in mounting his bid for the presidency, which he insists he will pursue until the August nominating convention, leaving an airline, lawyers and staffers without compensation even as the campaign has paid Mr. Gingrich, family members and connected businesses for services and expenses.

For Mr. Santorum, an unwillingness to take on debt appeared to be a contributing factor to his decision to drop out. Ten days before he suspended his campaign, Mr. Santorum’s committee had $200,000 more in debts than it had in cash.

There was no such unwillingness in Mr. Gingrich, whose creditors include 73 people and 119 businesses. The campaign is contesting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills, including $95,000 to Moshe Technologies, a company owned by a Rockville-based Republican operative who was also on the campaign’s staff.

“Their argument is my contract as a staffer includes software my company owns, even though the contract explicitly says it doesn’t,” said Michael “Moshe” Starkman.

Even as it angered creditors, the campaign paid $12,400 to a company owned by his daughter, Jackie Gingrich Cushman, in March. It has paid $514,000 to Mr. Gingrich for a mailing list of supporters as well as to reimburse expenses, though the candidate said he footed $270,000 in unexplained travel costs last month for which he was not immediately reimbursed.

A Gingrich campaign spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Winning Our Future, the pro-Gingrich super PAC run by former Gingrich officials, last month received $5 million from the family of Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who has been virtually the only supporter of the group, which can accept unlimited donations to run ads but cannot pay down the campaign’s debt.

The super PAC did, however, pay $25,000 to a group Mr. Gingrich started, American Solutions, for voter lists. Mr. Gingrich severed ties with that group in order to run for president, and it went bankrupt last summer.

While wealthy Romney supporters who are grateful to Mr. Santorum for bowing out of the race may help pay down his debts, they are not likely to do so for Mr. Gingrich. Also, while debt-saddled former presidential candidates who remain in other offices, as then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton did after losing the 2008 Democratic presidential primary battle, can leverage those to attract donations, Mr. Gingrich has no such position.

In the general election though, Mr. Romney will face a much-larger army than he has in the primaries. The Obama campaign has 600 paid staffers; Mr. Romney has 93 names on its payroll. Mr. Obama also has received 640,000 donations of $200 or more this entire cycle, seven times Mr. Romney’s 90,000 figure.

Much of the money powering Mr. Romney’s ad wars has come through the super PAC, which received 135 donations totaling $8.7 million in March.

While 34 people and companies have given a half-million dollars or more to Mr. Romney’s super PAC since its inception, 117 people have funneled that amount to Mr. Obama’s campaign, part of a network of well-placed “bundlers” who tap friends for the maximum contribution of $35,000.

Among new bundlers are actor Tyler Perry, spiritual healer Deepak Chopra and Robert Pohlad, who raised at least half a million dollars — $190,000 of which came from members of his family, which once owned the Minnesota Twins baseball franchise.

The largesse of Hollywood icons like Mr. Perry did not carry over into support for a pro-Obama super PAC, however, which saw only one million-dollar donation.

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