Retiring U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd’s unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign may seem like a distant memory here in Connecticut, but it remains on the minds of some small business owners around the country who have yet to be paid for their services.
According to the most recent campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, Dodd’s presidential bid still owes about $260,000 to various businesses around the country. The reports indicate that more than half that money—$160,000—is owed to Immediacy Group, a Washington D.C.-based consulting firm.
The other $100,000 is owed to various small and large businesses throughout the country, many of them in the Midwest.
A few calls to some of those businesses quickly reveal frequent inaccuracies in the campaign’s finance reports. Many of the vendors that continue to be listed as unpaid were compensated, including some that were paid more than a year after services were rendered.
To complicate the matter, most of the campaign’s staff disbanded soon after Dodd dropped out of the presidential campaign after receiving only one of 2,501 delegates in Iowa. In short, more than two years later it’s difficult to tell exactly how much money is still owed by the defunct campaign and to whom.
The situation is frustrating to business owners like Henry Moreau, who runs MoreSound, an audio equipment rental company in Jaffrey, N.H.
When the campaign came to town late in 2007, it rented $400 worth of sound and wireless equipment from Moreau’s shop. He says he still hasn’t been paid, adding that he frequently rents to political campaigns and the behavior of Dodd’s campaign is not typical.
“Hillary Clinton and John Edwards paid right up front. Bill Richardson actually paid us in advance,” Moreau said in a phone interview.
People like Moreau have surprisingly few options to secure funds from delinquent political committees. So far he has had no luck. The last time Moreau spoke with a representative of the campaign was about a year ago, he said. That person, whom Moreau did not identify, told him they were still looking into ways to pay off the lingering debt. He says he even tried contacting a representative of one of the unions that lined up in support of Dodd during his campaign, but to no avail.
Other vendors reported trouble getting reimbursed by the campaign for other rentals and damaged property. Kevin Kommes, who runs Heartland Flags and Flagpoles in Des Moines, Iowa, said the problems started almost immediately on the night Dodd dropped out of the race.
“The night he lost and said he was quitting, they were gone. They left town,” he said.
Some of the flags rented were returned damaged and had to be replaced, Kommes said. When he tried to charge the expense to the credit card the campaign left on file, he was surprised to hear the card had been canceled.
It took almost eight months but Heartland Flags eventually received a check for the $436 it was owed.
Veronica Detrich, who works at the Des Moines Theatrical Shop, recalled a strange but similar story. While in Iowa, a representative from the campaign came to the shop and rented a dinosaur costume.
Detrich said she remembers the incident well because the costume came back damaged.
“Whoever was wearing it was a little over-exuberant,” she said, adding that parts of the costume had to be repaired.
While it took “well over a year” for the theatrical shop to receive payment for those charges, like the expenses at the flag rental shop, the charge remains listed as outstanding debt on the campaign’s most recent finance reports.
All campaign committees that either have money or owe money must continue reporting to the FEC until the funds are completely disbursed and all the debts are paid. But it is not clear that the agency has the resources or the jurisdiction to police self-reported statements or to ensure that campaign debts are paid.
“I don’t know that the FEC has a place to stand in as far as making sure that people get paid. I don’t know that that’s within their jurisdiction to get involved in that aspect of it,” said Brendan Glavin of the Campaign Finance Institute.
Glavin noted that it is not unusual for a committee to continue reporting for years after the actual campaign has ended. A committee for former vice president and presidential candidate Al Gore had several million dollars in the bank for some time after his campaign ended, Glavin said.
Candidates have a fair amount of leeway in what they do with leftover campaign funds. Dodd’s senatorial campaign committee, which still has almost $1 million, may be able to use it to pay the debts from his presidential bid. According to Bryan DeAngelis, Dodd’s spokesperson, that is exactly what they are trying to do.
“The presidential campaign continues to make every effort to pay off the outstanding debts that still exist. In fact, the senate campaign saved some of its cash on hand to ensure that it could pay all outstanding debts as soon as possible,” he said. “Of the few remaining debts the campaign has, many have been paid off and that will be reflected in future FEC reports.”
If not, what’s the best way for businesses to get paid? Glavin said it might just be media attention.
“What has worked for people during the actual election is people using the media to make note of it. That’s obviously a little easier during the campaign season because it makes more of a story if you have a current candidate who hasn’t paid his or her bills, but I would still think that even in his case, I don’t know what Dodd has been up to, but I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate negative media,” he said.
The debt collection trail gets even more complicated for the small business owners from here, because Dodd is no longer in office. DeAngelis’ work cellphone has been disconnected and Richard Blumenthal will be sworn in Jan. 5 as Connecticut’s next senator.