On the stump, Newt Gingrich has often credited social media and new technologies with providing low-cost, grassroots ways of keeping his candidacy alive, and his campaign has long sought to cultivate a digital strategy. The main page of Newt’s Network, a virtual community that allows Gingrich supporters to connect with each other, states it was “Paid for by Newt 2012.”
But, mired in $4.3 million of debt, the Gingrich campaign is disputing whether it has to pay for Newt’s Network and officially signaled Friday in its FEC filing that the campaign may never do so – one of three contractual disputes that provide further insight into the extent of the campaign’s money troubles.
Of the debts the Gingrich campaign is disputing in its March FEC report is a $95,000 bill from Moshe Technologies, a small business owned by 34-year-old Moshe Starkman, who officially joined Newt 2012’s field operations team in December along with a handful of other former Herman Cain staffers.
While the campaign isn’t contesting the work Moshe Starkman put in as a field staffer, it’s the software his company provided to organize the operation – NewtsNetwork.com, Phone from Home and Virtual War Room – for which the campaign is now saying it shouldn’t have to pay because that, they say, would qualify as double-billing. Starkman joined the campaign as a member of 4 Components, a group of former Cain workers contracted to do grassroots organizing.
Chief Information Officer Mark Gembicki oversaw the technology aspects of the campaign, but he did not have the authority to sign off on contracts or expenses. The candidate himself, then campaign manager Michael Krull and former chief operation officer Roberto Coquis did.
But following a staff reorganization that took place at the end of March, Krull and Coquis fell out of the picture. The new leadership, led by newly promoted campaign manager Vince Haley, began sorting through expenses left behind by an organization that spent more money than it had been able to track. The team identified a few bills to dispute, particularly technology ones, including a charge of $22,500 from the company owned by former CIO Gembicki even though the campaign had already paid the first invoice of the same amount.
FEC rules require all products and services used by a campaign receive fair market payment. Starkman says that after he showed the new executive team emails from the former executive team authorizing the use of his software, he was informed that the absence of a formal, signed contract for it negated the request for payment.
“They’re playing a financial game,” said Starkman, “They’re not trying to do what’s honest or ethical by the FEC. They’re doing what saves them a very limited amount of money relative to the debt they have,” he said.
Starkman’s software – which Starkman and his small business staff designed, maintained and handled troubleshooting for – was used on a regular basis by the campaign. Phone from Home allowed any Gingrich supporter across the country to make calls on behalf of the candidate from their personal computer. Virtual War Room streamlined communications between staffers in the field and those in the national office.
Over the months the software was used, Starkman was not paid for the services. “When I asked about payment, I was told repeatedly, ‘Next week, in two weeks, now’s not a good time.’ I continued to provide the services in good faith.”
Starkman separated from the Gingrich campaign after the first week of April.
“Moshe Technologies no longer had faith in Newt 2012’s intentions to pay,” Starkman said, who says his business will be able to manage without the $95,000 but has undergone stress from the experience.
Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond says that the campaign has been undergoing an internal audit to make sure all the bills they have are “authorized and in line.”
“In cases where we haven’t been able to find sufficient proof or support, we’re going back to the vendor for it or we’re disputing it,” he said.
Starkman says despite the dispute over payment he still supports Newt Gingrich.
“The campaign and candidate are two separate entities,” said Starkman. “This is not the candidate’s fault. I think his campaign has made it near impossible for him to get the nomination, but he as an individual is the most qualified candidate running for that position."
Not all technology vendors who worked with the campaign are upset with the campaign’s ability to honor its contracts. Vincent Harris, whose online communications company is still working for the Gingrich campaign, says he has reached an “organized agreement” for payment.
The campaign launched a new website, ObamaFailures.net on Monday.