- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2012

As the presidential campaign of Newt Gingrich persevered despite no realistic prospect of victory, the former House speaker spent lavishly on the trappings of a more-successful, high-profile campaign, spending more on travel and security in March than Mitt Romney did, records show.

In March alone, the Gingrich campaign spent $1.6 million on travel — $1.1 million for chartered planes, $62,000 for use of a bus and $16,000 for hotels. On top of that, it tallied $200,000 for cash reimbursements to staff, plus $271,000 to Mr. Gingrich himself, for apparent travel expenses, though the campaign has refused to specify what those payments cover.

Meanwhile, presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney spent $1.1 million on travel in March. Even at its height, Mr. Gingrich’s campaign had fewer than half the number of staffers as Mr. Romney’s.

Watchdogs said the fact that the numbers are so high raises questions about whether Mr. Gingrich might be profiting from the funds.

“Hopefully, the Federal Election Commission will do its job and, to the extent red flags are raised by these extraordinarily high travel fees, investigate,” said Paul S. Ryan, a lawyer at the Campaign Legal Center.

Campaigns are required to disclose the ultimate destination of campaign funds, not merely note they are “reimbursements” for unspecified expenses — a requirement that specialists say places the Gingrich campaign’s accounting at odds with federal law.

“It’s clearly illegal to convert funds to personal use, and the disclosure requirements are intended to enable enforcement … but we don’t have that disclosure,” Mr. Ryan said, noting that it would take an audit to determine whether Mr. Gingrich was profiting from the $271,000 he was paid.

The hefty security detail comes even though the candidate also received taxpayer-funded security for nearly the entire month.

Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said that the security bill in March included prior services and that private security and Secret Service protection overlapped for only one week.

“The campaign, at the recommendation of certain people, brought on an outside security company in the beginning of December, and they effectively served the campaign for several months,” Mr. Hammond said.

Since the beginning of the year, Mr. Gingrich has racked up $716,000 in security bills, versus $319,000 for Mr. Romney and $120,000 for Rick Santorum, who dropped out of the race early this month. Mr. Romney received Secret Service protection beginning in early February, while Mr. Santorum received it in early March, about the same time as Mr. Gingrich.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who has shunned Secret Service protection as a form of “welfare,” has spent $42,000 on security this year, records show. Federally provided protection of the sort Mr. Gingrich’s moribund campaign continues to enjoy comes at a cost of about $40,000 a day to taxpayers.

Gingrich security bills are mostly to the Patriot Group which, like many of the campaign’s vendors, is owed $450,000 in outstanding compensation, but they also include assorted other “security” contractors, including Cushman Enterprises, his daughter’s company.

Mr. Hammond said the $1.1 million debt to Moby Dick Airways, reported as “incurred” during March, actually covered a longer time, despite the fact that the campaign has reported a running and steadily increasing tab with the airline each month.

If true, that practice has mischaracterized the campaign’s standing for months, making Mr. Gingrich seem more viable than he was early in the campaign and allowing the campaign to suddenly plunge deeply into debt later.

Mr. Ryan said such back-loading also violates FEC rules, which require goods and services to be recorded as debts or expenditures during the month the campaign benefited from them — “not when a bill is received.”

The fact that Mr. Gingrich’s campaign is no longer straining to win the presidency opens the door to exorbitant pampering, especially as the public eye focuses elsewhere, watchdogs said.

“The Gingrich campaign today seems no longer viable, but some might argue he wasn’t a viable candidate from the outset, and this campaign was about securing a lavish lifestyle, and the ego, perhaps a TV show. The law isn’t designed to judge that. It’s really up to donors,” Mr. Ryan said, noting that is why disclosure is important.

The campaign’s practice of having staffers foot their own bills and then claim reimbursement, rather than the campaigns paying vendors directly, as all other campaigns do, has left 55 staffers out thousands of dollars.

• Luke Rosiak can be reached at lrosiak@washingtontimes.com.

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