WASHINGTON -- For a long time, Larry Scheffler maintained a hard policy at his Nevada printing company: no credit for politicians. But when a friend called on behalf of GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich In January, saying the candidate needed signs for the upcoming Nevada caucus, Scheffler made an exception.
"They said they were going to pay right away," Scheffler, 61, said in an interview.
Scheffler's company, Las Vegas Color Graphics, produced a trove of campaign materials for Gingrich: 5,000 rally signs, 5,000 bumper stickers, 5,000 lapel stickers, 5,000 cards targeting Hispanic voters, and nearly 100 yard signs. The tab came to $7,439.62.
But more than two months after the caucus, Scheffler is still waiting for the check. "We got burned," he said.
Like all the GOP presidential hopefuls, Gingrich has cast himself as a champion of small businesses, promising tax relief to American entrepreneurs and a deregulation plan that will spur job growth. But some small businesses are less than pleased with the former House speaker's presidential campaign -- in particular, some of the vendors who have performed work for it. Last month HuffPost reported how Gingrich was ramping up an expensive campaign even as he was running out of money and flagging in the polls. The loose spending should come as little surprise: Gingrich was trailed by 30 years' worth of debts, lawsuits and bankruptcies leading into the campaign.
In interviews with HuffPost, many vendors listed in Gingrich's Federal Election Commission debt disclosures said they're still waiting to be paid, weeks or months after finishing work. Several said they've been given the runaround by campaign officials as they've tried to collect. Gingrich has vowed to slog on with his debt-ridden campaign, despite having won a mere 136 delegates, leaving some vendors to wonder when they can expect their checks.
Gingrich campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond told HuffPost that Newt 2012 is doing its best to pay people. "Vendors have been contacted and we are paying bills as swiftly as we are able," Hammond said.
Gingrich said Sunday that his campaign is "slightly less" than $4.5 million in debt, adding that he dipped into "personal funds" to help keep Newt 2012 moving "on a shoestring."
"We owe much more than we wanted to," Gingrich said on Fox News Sunday. "Florida got to be a real brawl. And I think, unfortunately, our guys tried to match Romney and it turned out we didn't have anything like his capacity to raise money."
Though Gingrich has long held himself up as a paragon of fiscal responsibility, vendors that include Noiseworks Media have found that the former speaker's campaign is apparently spending money it doesn't have. Based in Coral Gables, Fla., Noiseworks produced a handful of television and radio spots for the campaign, in English as well as Spanish, that aired in Florida and Arizona leading up to those primaries. Disclosure forms peg Gingrich's debt to Noiseworks at $10,500, but the firm's director, Tere Gutierrez, said the tab is closer to $24,000. The firm fronted nearly half of that money to actors, makeup artists and other contractors that the firm needed for the production, Gutierrez said.
"It's unusual that we don't get paid -- politicians are usually very good at that, they pay immediately," said Gutierrez. But with the Gingrich campaign, "It's getting from bad to worse. ... It's a lot of running around, 'We're going to get to you, we're going to do a payment plan.' We're calling and emailing, calling and emailing, every day. And nothing."
According to Gutierrez, Noiseworks had the choice to work for either Gingrich or frontrunner Mitt Romney. But like Larry Scheffler's printing company, Noiseworks decided to do business with Gingrich because of a personal connection.
Nobody had to pull strings to get Gregory Fournier doing work for the Gingrich campaign. The president of Florida-based political consulting firm Insite Political, Fournier also happened to be a Gingrich campaign chairman for Volusia County, home to Daytona Beach. Fournier happily performed roughly $5,000 of work for Newt 2012, having signs made for a Florida event and obtaining voter data for the Sunshine State's primary. But getting paid was like "going to war," Fournier said.
"At first it was, 'Well, they sent out the check, it went out in today's mail.' Then, 'The check was pulled. You have to contact the campaign manager.' He never returned any emails," said Fournier. "Luckily, I saved every single document of the state committee people asking me for stuff."
Fournier was eventually paid in full about a month ago, but the experience left him with a bad taste. Adding further insult, he'd made a $2,500 donation to the campaign. He figured all of his support would maybe warrant a handshake, an autographed book or a thank-you, but he said he never got to meet the former speaker. Even so, he still supports Gingrich.
"It's not the speaker -- I believe in the speaker," Fournier said. "I think logistically his campaign was a mess."
Not all the vendors reached by HuffPost had bad experiences with Newt 2012. Daniel Coats, the president of Red Cyclone, a Georgia-based company that produces campaign materials for conservative candidates, said the campaign paid him promptly. "They made good on everything," Coats said, though he also noted, "Our policy is we don't ship until we receive payment."
Angel de la Portilla, an Orlando-based political consultant, didn't have such a policy. He said the Gingrich campaign owes him $6,000 for setting up events with Hispanic voters ahead of the Florida primary. (The campaign reported to the government that it owes de la Portilla $3,840.)
"I have not yet been paid," de la Portilla said. "I have been told numerous times by different people at the senior level of the campaign that I would be paid. I got an email telling me the check was in the mail."
It turned out the check wasn't in the mail. "It's just disappointing they way it's being handled," de la Portilla said.
Gingrich's campaign bounced a $500 check last month for the fee to qualify for the Utah ballot, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. The campaign has not responded to the state's calls and a certified letter, according to the report. The campaign has until April 20 to pay the fee or Gingrich won't be on Utah's June 26 ballot.
Some vendors may never get paid. Given that the campaign has little in the way of assets, Gingrich would likely need to either pay out of his own pocket or raise enough money from donors to settle the campaign's debts. Raising money becomes less likely as Gingrich's presidential hopes diminish. Vendors can wait years for a campaign to settle up. Former presidential candidate John Glenn famously took 23 years to pay off the roughly $3 million he ran up in campaign debt in 1984.
Gingrich on Tuesday vowed to continue his campaign in the wake of Rick Santorum's departure. "I am committed to staying in this race all the way to Tampa so that the conservative movement has a real choice," Gingrich said in a statement.
Scheffler, head of the Las Vegas printing company, said his firm has 150 employees and about $30 million in annual sales from printing and mailing political signs.
"It’s not gonna shove us down," he said of the Gingrich campaign debt. "It just really makes me mad they got the better of me when I knew better."
Scheffler said he'd been calling three different Gingrich campaign officials about the debt, but none have gotten back to him in weeks. On Tuesday morning he saw a clip of Gingrich on Fox News, insisting his campaign wasn't going to end. "I am not conceding to Gov. Romney," Gingrich said in the clip, taped the previous evening.
Scheffler was not impressed. "I can't believe he's talking like this with all the money he owes and he couldn't care less about the small businesses he's ripping off."
Tuesday afternoon, Scheffler said he reached Gingrich on the candidate's mobile phone and said he wanted to be paid. "He said, 'We really ran behind when we were in Florida. I'll try to scrape up some money to get you paid.'"
Scheffler said Gingrich hung up without taking down details of the debt.