Huntsman loans campaign another $1.5 million
Politics • Spokeswoman says he continues to pay off what is owed.
Published: April 16, 2012 05:55PM
Updated: April 16, 2012 06:11PM
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Chris Detrick | Tribune File Photo Former presidential candidate and one-time Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is paying off campaign debt with personal funds -- but he still has a ways to go.

Washington • Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has forked over another $1.5 million from his personal fortune to pay down campaign debt since abandoning his presidential bid, but he still owes more than $1.3 million to vendors.

Huntsman, who has now loaned his campaign just over $4 million, said recently that he planned to pay down his debt through a combination of loans and fundraisers, though he collected only $6,000 in donations in recent months.

The slow pace in paying off vendors has some of Huntsman’s former campaign workers and vendors concerned that the ex-candidate isn’t serious about paying off his bills — and more concerned that he would leave hanging some of those who worked hard on his bid.

“I am very hopeful that Governor Huntsman will make good on his debt, not only for our firm but for all those other firms that invested significant time and resources into helping his campaign,” said pollster Whit Ayres, whose firm was paid $50,000 in March but is still owed another $49,000.

Ayres noted that former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty held a series of fundraisers after he dropped out and has paid off all his debt.

“That is the normal way to handle a campaign debt,” Ayres said.

Politico reported recently that some vendors had even considered suing Huntsman to force him to pony up, though no lawsuits have yet been filed.

Huntsman’s one-time media consultant, Fred Davis of Strategic Perception, is owed $356,000 but says he isn’t interested in taking Huntsman to court.

“We’ve not considered legal action and remain convinced that the governor will pay these debts,” Davis said.

Huntsman’s daughter, Abby Huntsman Livingston, who is acting as his spokeswoman, says her dad is working on retiring the campaign’s outstanding balance.

“We are continuing to pay off the debt, as we have been since getting out of the race,” Livingston said.

The ex-governor, who left his presidential bid after a disappointing third-place finish in New Hampshire, has largely stepped back from politics and joined a few corporate boards, including Ford Motor Co. and Caterpillar.

Huntsman told The Salt Lake Tribune in a recent interview that he planned to pay half of his debt off himself and then raise money to cover the rest. He added that he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to later repay his own loans.

“These are always complicated things,” Huntsman said. “You always hope to get repaid. And if you’re successful in politics, maybe that becomes a reality but I mean if you look at [past candidates like] Hillary Clinton, they’re still carrying massive debts years later and they just chip away at it slowly.”

Huntsman isn’t alone in leaving the presidential race with lots of red ink, though he does have the largest negative balance.

Former candidate Herman Cain had $580,000 in debt when he suspended his bid and ex-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who left the race last week, owes about $922,000.

tburr@sltrib.com