ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Now, the trouble with big money politics. It's no surprise that presidential candidates have spent millions of dollars, but the one campaign that was expected to be the best financed of all has been struggling.
As NPR's Peter Overby reports, Hillary Clinton's operation is scraping for cash to pay its bills.
PETER OVERBY: Back in late December with the Iowa caucuses coming up, Hillary Clinton's campaign threw together a reception in Cedar Falls. The venue was the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center at the University of Northern Iowa.
Mr. CHRIS KREMER (Event Management Director, Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Art Center, University of Northern Iowa): They booked it about three days ahead.
OVERBY: Chris Kremer manages events at the center. He said this one costs $1,500. Kremer has dealt with campaigns before, so he asked for a credit card. They told him to send an invoice, which he did. A month went by.
Mr. KREMER: I called them and had asked that we get payment squared away, and they said, you know, we'll get that taken care of. And then it was another month later that I called again and then they said, oh yeah, it's been posted. And then, about two days later, I received a request for a taxpayer identification number, and then within a couple of weeks, I did finally receive a check.
OVERBY: That was about three weeks ago. The campaign also just recently paid the $1,000 tab for a New Year's Eve event in Des Moines. The caterer said her husband had been weighing legal action. Clinton's campaign finished February, carrying $8.5 million in debt, far more than Obama or Republican John McCain.
It appears that the Clinton operation is now paying its overdue bills, but it's also struggling to keep a TV presence in Pennsylvania, let alone in other states that come after. When the campaign began, Clinton was supposed to be the one who could tap the Democrats' big money sources. But she also spent heavily, and presidential candidates as a group don't have the best credit rating.
Nancy Bocskor is a Republican fundraising consultant.
Professor NANCY BOCSKOR (GOP Campaign Consultant; Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University): Candidates blow in. They spend a lot of money to have a rally. They blow back out, and you never see them again. And years ago, the phone companies started getting very smart and required very large deposits so they could actually get their money back.
OVERBY: Bocskor teaches fundraising at the George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. She says Clinton's plight came up in class just last night.
Prof. BOCSKOR: This one student kept going, well, can't she go to her Senate race and raise more money and transfer money from the Senate race to the presidential? And I'm going, no, that's money laundering. So, it was very interesting to hear, particularly a couple of the students trying to figure out what Hillary would put together.
OVERBY: What she's put together so far is a personal loan to the campaign for $5 million.
Randall Adkins, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, expects that Clinton will make another loan, too, that would let her campaign go all out in Pennsylvania.
Professor RANDALL ADKINS (Political Scientist, University of Nebraska): This is perfect timing for her to be able to win Pennsylvania and then continue to campaign. If she were having to compete on April 22nd in, you know, five different states, I think she would be very hard-pressed to continue to the campaign.
OVERBY: Then, Adkins says, either Clinton wins in Pennsylvania and her fundraising picks up or not. By lending her own money, she's following other wealthy politicos in recent presidential primaries — Republican Steve Forbes in 1996, Democrat John Kerry in 2004, Republican Mitt Romney this year.
Again Randall Adkins.
Prof. ADKINS: They're not donating money to the campaign; they're loaning money to their campaign. If like John Kerry they end up winning, then they get paid back. If they end up losing, then it effectively becomes a donation.
OVERBY: But in any case, she won't end up like former astronaut and senator John Glenn, the poster child for the scourge of campaign overreaching. Glenn ran for president in 1984. Twenty-two years later in 2006, his campaign committee finally closed down, still owing various creditors $2.5 million.
Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.