Since Newt Gingrich is now leading the Republican pack, it seems like an opportune time to question some of his campaign expenditures. Gingrich has long been a spendthrift which is why I laugh when he gets all blustery about spending in the Republican debates. Nevertheless, how a candidate manages money can be an indicator of what to expect from them while in office.
Some of Newt's usual spending has shifted from his old PAC over to his Presidential campaign committee. The private jet expenditures, for example, are still a major piece of his spending. In the second quarter, Newt ran up a bill of $503,877 with his old favorite, Moby Dick Airways. In the third quarter he seems to have stopped using Moby Dick, but is carrying debt of $451,946 with them.
I'm more interested in Newt's incredibly high web development expenses. Either I'm in the wrong business or he's overspending in a big way for web services. According to his third quarter report, the campaign made weekly payments of $10,000 to High Tech Win, LLC for "website development", with the exception of two payments in July for $20,000 each. The total paid in the third quarter to this vendor was $120,000. In the second quarter, the campaign paid $120,000 on June 13th, $50,000 on May 12th, $50,000 on May 17th, and $65,000 on May 26th for a total of $285,000. Remarkably, he had a total balance due of $497,059.90 at the end of the second quarter.
Nearly $500,000 to one vendor for website management? And that's not everything he spent on site development. He paid Rackspace $18,000 in the second quarter for hosting services, and a company called VM Media, Inc $210,250 for Q2 "website management". VM Media appears to be a company specializing in social media consulting run by Jim Eustace which specializes in microtargeting. Over $200,000 seems like a lot to pay for that, but at least it appears to be a legit operation.
On the other hand, High Tech Win, LLC is far more confusing. Here is a company profile. It describes High Tech Win, LLC as an appliance and home remodeling company? That doesn't sound like web development. High Tech Win's principal is H. Dale Langley, Jr., an Austin intellectual property lawyer*.
Finally, there were payments of $14,070 to 5EI, LLC for website development in the third quarter. This number sounds far closer to a realistic amount to pay for a candidate website. Adobe Systems was paid $14,448 in the third quarter, too.
Here's the thing: The Gingrich website isn't anything special. It's like a zillion other turnkey candidate websites. It's probably running on one of the open source platforms like Drupal. Astroturf organizations can set these things up out of the box for under $10,000, with domain and hosting included. I know this because I had to track too many of them during the health care debate. Most candidates do buy targeted Facebook and Google ads, but those payments go directly to Facebook and/or Google. And yes, most candidates also employ some sort of social media consultant but not for that kind of money. That expenditure raises a gigantic, bright-red flag.
Here is my question for Newt Gingrich. Why would Newt's campaign need to pay an intellectual property lawyer who seems to also run an appliance and home remodeling company almost $500,000 for website development? I think that's a question Newt should answer if he expects to be treated as a legitimate candidate in the Republican primary, don't you?
* [h/t Daily Kos diarist DemSign for the link]