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GOP candidates rack up debt

May 3, 2012: 12:38 PM ET

Newt Gingrich's long-foundering presidential run is finally over, but the former House speaker's efforts to pay off his campaign debt are likely just beginning.

The Gingrich campaign, as of the last reporting period, owes $4.3 million to creditors, including pollsters, staffers, consultants, lawyers and event venues.

The campaign owes Moby Dick Airways, an air charter company, more than $1 million. Another $450,000 is owed to a security firm called Patriot Group. Tech darling Twitter is on the list for $12,700.

The total amount owed may already be dropping. Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond told CNNMoney on Thursday that the campaign paid off around $500,000 in April, payments that won't show up until the next monthly Federal Election Commission filing.

It is common for campaigns to go into debt, but Gingrich has dug quite the hole. After all, his campaign raised just over $22 million while he was a candidate. Raising money now will be even harder. It is possible that some creditors won't be paid for years.

But there are plenty of ways to pay down the debt. As of March 31, the campaign had $1.2 million in cash on hand. Some of that might be paid to creditors. Mitt Romney, the party's presumptive nominee, might be persuaded to help Gingrich retire the debt, as President Obama helped Hillary Clinton do in 2008.

The campaign might also rent out its voter mailing lists to other candidates in exchange for a fee, a strategy that candidates have used in the past, including Clinton, who also auctioned time with her husband in order to retire campaign debt.

But the debt is likely to linger. According to its latest filing, the Clinton campaign is still in debt almost four years after closing up shop. At the end of March, the campaign owed research and consulting firm Penn, Schoen & Berland some $245,000.

Gingrich isn't the only 2012 candidate with bills to pay. Rick Santorum is almost $2 million in debt, but has $1.8 million in cash available. And Jon Huntsman has creditors, but around $4 million of his $5.5 million debt are loans from the candidate himself to the campaign.

Tim Pawlently, one of the first Republican contenders to drop out, has already paid off his debt. But he is lucky. It's more common for campaign debt to endure for years. Rudy Giuliani, the 2008 hopeful, still owes creditors $1.5 million, including $236,000 to Verizon Wireless and $107,000 to AT&T.

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