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Don't Drink the Tea. Think With the WE.

Six Debt-Bashing Conservatives Who Are Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars in Campaign Debt

Trent Franks (R-AZ)

For Republicans, the rhetoric surrounding the national debt is often laden with talk of the “moral imperative” to live within our means.  Since 2010, stump speeches have included a psuedo-sentimental call to have our government run more like a household where the budget is based strictly on what we can and cannot currently spend. In this scenario, hard choices are to be made about what we will have to do without.  

There is no doubt that the national debt is a topic worthy of discussion but the enormity of our looming fiscal doom is constantly overblown. What’s worse, according to James Buckley and Paul Gaige of The Atlas Project, many of the debt’s most staunch fearmongers are hypocrites who can’t even keep their own houses in order.

Buckley and Gaige have compiled and released information concerning the debt that Republicans don’t want to talk about: campaign debt. It appears as though those who feel most strongly about the Obama Administration’s inability to tame government debt are in no way heeding their own words.  The Atlas Project highlights six Republicans currently pushing this issue hard to the press while their campaign spending goes wholly unmanaged. Three of these six, which we break down below, reside in the swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.

Robert Pittenger (NC-09)
“Hard-working American families live within a budget. Successful businesses work within a budget. Why is it such a radical idea for the United States Government to have a budget?” — Robert Pittenger

The Pittenger campaign is currently $719,940.54 in debt.  After the election, he left hanging four companies who worked on his campaign while paying a $5,000 debt back to himself:

Creative Direct, LLC (Printing – $26,991.00)
Innovative Advertising, LLC (Media) – $26,000.00
Reid Political Consulting, LLC (Fundraising) – $21,175
Artech Graphics (Printing) – $9,741.54)

The campaign currently has $630,000 in loans (to Pittenger) and only $3,158.41 on hand.  Digging deeper, the Atlas Project found some questionable expenditures from the campaign including $4,176 for “Apartment Rent” which was spread over two entries, $105.73 for “USB Cable for Printer” (these currently sell on Amazon for between $2 and $3), and $6,767.14 for “Courier Service.”

As noted by The Atlas Project, “Pittenger managed to accumulate this debt by outspending his Democratic opponent 5 to 1, in order to win just 51.8% of the vote in a R+10 district.”

Jim Renacci (OH-16)

“At a time when Americans have had to tighten their own belts, I came to Washington from the business world intent on working to get Washington’s runaway spending under control. That begins with being a good steward of tax payer dollars when it comes to managing my own office budget. I’m proud to announce that I will return over $230,000 in unspent funds to the Treasury.” — Jim Renacci

The $230,000 he “saved” taxpayers is nearly half of his campaign debt. Part of the debt probably comes from the $100,000+ of questionable donations he had to return in 2012.  Among the most questionable expenditures from the campaign was $7,236.32 for a “False Advertising Suit Against” when Renacci filed a complaint against the DCCC. Legal wheeling and dealing with campaign funds?  That case was eventually thrown out. From The Atlast Project:

Despite being personally wealthy, Renacci’s campaign account is currently more than $400,000 in the red ($370,000 of which is owed to Renacci).  While Renacci likely attempted to control his runaway spending on his campaign by pulling his broadcast ads at the end of the cycle, he still managed to end up in significant debt.

Lou Barletta (PA-11)
“Across the Commonwealth, families and businesses operate under a budget. They are forced to live within their means. I voted in favor of the “No Budget, No Pay” legislation, because it is time for Washington to do the same. If we are serious about achieving long-term fiscal responsibility, we must address fiscal accountability.” — Lou Barletta

If the name sounds familiar it may be because he ran against WPP favorite Gene Stilp in November?.  The now two-term Congressman has made national headlines before for voting for the interests of his stock portfolio over his constituency.  Now, the campaign of the conservative crusader is $131,208.93 in debt:

Keystone Strategies, Inc. (Fundraising — $31,820.38)
Capital Strategies, D.C. (Fundraising — $18,839.49)
Mommoth Marketing (Printing — $5,049.06)
Robert Watkins & Company (Accounting — $3,000.00)

Barletta’s most questionable expenditures? A $3,000 speaking fee to former MLB pitcher Tommy John and three separate “excess funds” payments made to the NRCC ($20,000 on 5/27/11, $10,000 on 7/26/12, and $10,000 on 10/23/12)

To be fair, debt is a reality of life in a capitalist society. Debt can be a smart way to manage the cost of launching a venture of any sort, political campaign or not. It can also be an effective way of running a country. The point of The Atlas Project research is likely not to villainize these politicians for their money woes, it’s to highlight the hypocrisy of debt-bashing by those who intentionally accrue it themselves.


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