Emerging Voices

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Trump, Harris Top List of 2020 Presidential Candidates with Significant Campaign Debt

According to filings with the Federal Election Commission and recent reports, President Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris headline a list of 2020 presidential candidates with significant debt.

According to the USA Today, President Donald Trump’s unsuccessful re-election bid appeared to be in debt last month. However, in a new campaign filing from Thursday night, Trump’s campaign raked in $207.5 million following Election Night until November 23. In the filing to the FEC, Trump’s campaign had $11.3 million in unpaid bills but had $18.4 million in cash on hand.

Trump and the RNC asked supporters to help pay for fees tied to an effort to overturn the election results in several battleground states; however, some of the money raised may be going in a different direction.

“The Trump campaign is citing the cost of legal fees and recount expenses in his fundraising appeals,” said Brendan Fischer, Director of Federal Reform at the Campaign Legal Center. Fischer added that this is legal, however misleading, because the donation form says where the money raised may go, which includes Trump’s legal team and the RNC.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is still dealing with massive campaign debt after dropping out of the race precisely one-year ago Thursday. Filings show that Harris owes $935,681.21, despite raising $40.3 million during the primaries; however, most of her funds raised came from transfers from her Senate campaign account.

Among several bills that Harris’ campaign left unpaid includes $523,883.43 to Seattle-based law firm Perkins Coie, for fees and legal services, $85,000 to NGP Van, Inc. for software services, and $244,076.66 to a handful of companies for services ranging from voter data from analytic firms to traveling, marketing, and strategy expenses.

According to September FEC filings, Senator Elizabeth Warren has $632,994.97 in unpaid bills with $124,423.96 in her campaign’s bank account. The Massachusetts progressive has $592,719.21 in bills to make to Perkins Coie, for their legal services and owes $40,275.76 to Washington D.C.- based strategic consulting firm, Blue State.

Senator Cory Booker joins his colleagues with significant campaign debt. According to campaign filings from late September, the New Jersey Democrat owes $785,889.53 in debts and loans with $20,000 in cash on hand. Booker only owes money to Perkins Coie, for their legal services.

Marianne Williamson’s campaign also finds itself in debt. According to filings from October, the author, who was one of the first candidates to ax her campaign before the Iowa Caucuses, has more than $230,000 in debt with less than $1,500 in cash on hand. Among the handful of companies Williamson’s campaign owes money to, she owes $80,556.83 to North Carolina-based Next Digital Connections in “interest-disputed debt” and $52,341.13 in unpaid credit card payments.

Williamson held online seminars with $149-plus tickets in January to raise money to offset some of her campaign’s debt.

In some cases, campaign debt could linger for years after an election cycle. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential campaign is still to this date around $4.6 million in debt.

“A vendor is within their rights to go after a campaign for their unpaid debts. They have a contract with a campaign,” said Fischer. “A vendor may potentially forgive a candidate for their debt (and) may not want to go up against a powerful political figure.” Fischer noted that it’s rare for a vendor to go public with legal actions as a result of unpaid bills by a candidate.

The FEC allows presidential campaigns to sell off their assets to raise funds. A list of assets includes press or supporters lists or objects, such as teleprompters. Harris’ campaign sold $8,000 worth of assets to Tom Steyer’s campaign in January.

According to the FEC, a candidate cannot terminate their campaign until all debts and obligations are resolved. “The federal law recognizes that campaigns may find themselves in debt. The requirement is that all campaigns report its debt owed until it’s (eliminated),” said Fischer.