It’s been more than a year since Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst lost his bid to become a U.S. senator, but his campaign still owes consultants and vendors nearly $1 million, Federal Election Commission records show.
In a July filing, the Dewhurst For Texas federal campaign committee disclosed various “debts and obligations” owed to consultants and other service providers, including top Republican consultants Dave Carney, Mike Baselice and Jim Bognet.
The unpaid bills range from several six-figure debts to media experts to a few hundred dollars owed to a company that provided email services. The total tab: $909,875.90, records indicate.
Many of the vendors are upset about getting stiffed for thousands of dollars from the campaign of a multi-millionaire candidate like Dewhurst, who hasn’t hesitated to pour some of his vast wealthy into his political endeavors.
In a written statement, Dewhurst spokesman Travis Considine pointed to the alleged embezzlement by former campaign manager Kenneth “Buddy” Barfield. Lawyers for Dewhurst's state and federal campaign committees have accused Barfield of stealing as much as $2 million from both his state and federal campaign coffers. According to news reports, both state and federal authorities are investigating the allegations, and Dewhurst’s two campaigns have filed a civil lawsuit to recover the funds.
Barfield’s lawyer, Brian Casey, declined comment.
“The Dewhurst state and federal committees have filed suit in Travis County district court and are vigorously pursuing recovery of all funds embezzled by Kenneth Barfield, including those that should have been used to pay any outstanding federal campaign obligations,” Considine told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday.
That explanation didn’t soothe several of the vendors. Jeff Roe, owner of Missouri-based Candidate Command, which prepares and sends out direct mail advertisements, said he incurred postage and printing costs based on assurances from Dewhurst that he would be compensated for his services. Figures show Roe's company is still owed $134,343.
“This is not some consultant fees, this is expended resources spent in the pursuit of election victory,” Roe said. “It’s clear he’s able to raise resources and pay these debts. The steps we took were on David’s word that we would be paid. That wasn’t some Buddy Barfield promise. That was David. It was based on David’s honor.”
At least two of the consultants carrying the year-old debt have continued to work for Dewhurst, who is now engaged in a highly competitive race to keep his powerful job as lieutenant governor, which oversees proceedings in the Texas Senate. They are fundraiser Becca McMullen, owed $50,000 for a “fundraising consulting bonus,” and Ryan Gravatt, whose Internet services company, Raconteur Media, is owed $45,362 for website consulting and advertising, records show.
“I’m working for David Dewhurst because I personally like him. He has integrity,” Gravatt said. “I’ve been told that this will be made right and I’ll be made whole, and I’m still hopeful that that will be the case.”
McMullen was not available for comment, Considine said.
A law firm providing legal services and a firm providing accounting services were the only creditors to whom the Dewhurst Senate campaign made any payments during the last reporting period, the report shows. The Dewhurst campaign previously refunded about $800,000 in contributions to donors who had given him money for a general election that never came, officials said. Dewhurst lost the GOP primary to Ted Cruz, now the state's junior U.S. senator.
Here are some of the debts the Dewhurst Senate campaign still owes, according to the FEC:
- $170,628 to OnMessage, a media consulting and polling firm. The company, in which former Dewhurst consultant Brad Todd is a partner, also did work for Gov. Rick Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign.
- $125,000 to Something Else Strategies, a national media consulting firm that does work for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and others.
- $112,885 to former general consultant and strategist Jim Bognet, a former top campaign aide to Mitt Romney.
- $50,452 to Baselice & Associates. Mike Baselice, who has provided polling data to Perry and other Texas Republicans, was Dewhurst's pollster during the Senate race.
- $36,388 to Norway Hill, Carney’s consulting company. A longtime consultant to Perry, Carney is now a top consultant for Attorney General Greg Abbott, the frontrunner in the race to succeed Perry.
- $20,000 to John Doner & Associates, a well-known research firm based in Austin.
The debts on the campaign reports for the top vendors reflect partial non-payment. All of them were paid previously for services rendered earlier in the campaign, records show. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, for example, OnMessage is listed as the recipient of some $7 million and Bognet is shown as having received $278,000.
It’s not clear whether the billings listed on the website include any of the outstanding debts recorded in the July FEC report.
Roe, who owns the direct mail company in Missouri, said even though it’s been a year, he remains optimistic that Dewhurst, who spent most of his life in the business world, will step in and settle the debts.
“I continue to be hopeful that this will be resolved," he said.