Norton seeks $476K in debt relief
Former U.S. Senate candidate Jane Norton is asking the federal government to absolve her of hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign debt.
Norton, a Grand Junction native who lost the 2010 Republican Party nomination to Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, owes as many as 18 creditors nearly $476,000.
But while she’s tried to raise additional funds to cover that debt over the past two years, she’s only managed to pull in a few thousand dollars to help pay off her mostly out-of-state creditors, her husband, Mike Norton, said.
As a result, her campaign, Jane Norton for Colorado Inc., filed a debt settlement plan with the Federal Election Commission offering to pay about 4.6 cents on the dollar.
“It is important to note that at the onset, she instructed there be no debt and then went about being a candidate,” said Mike Norton, a Denver attorney who filed the settlement plan on behalf of the campaign. “She was surprised that there was a debt. There are no loans. They’re all claims for services rendered, and in some cases there’s a dispute of whether or not the services were rendered or the services were authorized.”
Norton said in the cases where the debt was not disputed, the creditors accepted the campaign’s offer at settlement.
That amounts to the bulk of the debt. Under the settlement plan, Norton proposes to pay $22,149 to pay off more than $313,000. Two other cases list additional debts totalling $33,000 but involve no settlement at all.
According to FEC regulations, unpaid campaign debts must be paid in full unless creditors agree to a lesser or no amount.
Mike Norton said, however, that doesn’t apply to disputed debt. For Norton’s campaign, that amounts to about $129,000.
Norton’s campaign, which touted no government debt or bailouts as chief platforms, has about $16,000 in cash, all of which would go toward paying creditors. The remaining $6,000 would come from her own pocket, according to the settlement plan. It is unknown if any of those creditors plan to dispute the settlement plan, which the FEC has yet to approve.
Norton said his wife blames people who ran the campaign, but declined to point fingers at anyone specifically.
“Jane entrusted a group of people with the responsibility to manage and run the campaign, and do with the resources that were made available,” Mike Norton said. “That just didn’t happen.”
He stopped short, however, of naming specific people, including former Grand Junction state senator Josh Penry, who ran the campaign for more than three months before the August 2010 GOP primary, when she earned 48 percent of the vote.
Penry said he took over the campaign at the behest of Jane Norton because of the mounting debt.
“I ran the campaign for about 100 days, and took the reins at a time the campaign was hemorrhaging unpaid invoices and was free-falling in the polls,” Penry said via text messaging while on his honeymoon in Mexico.
Last weekend Penry married Kristin Strohm, a Denver political strategist and managing partner of The Starboard Group, one of the firms owed by the Norton campaign but a $6,000 debt that Norton is disputing.
“When Jane asked me to take over, I made clear there would be wholesale changes on day one, beginning with finances,” Penry said. “I fired about a dozen staff and D.C. consultants, cut everyone’s salaries, and gave up pay myself for weeks at a time when I was essentially broke. The only regret I have is that we didn’t get started a month earlier.”
At the time, Penry had just ended his own bid for the GOP nomination for Colorado governor and was going through a divorce with his wife, Jamie.
Norton’s campaign debt isn’t the only one from the 2010 Senate races.
Former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff still has a $250,000 campaign debt, but all of that money came in the form of three loans from the Democrat himself.
Romanoff was vying for his party’s nomination against U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who went on to defeat Buck in the general election. Romanoff said he got the money for those loans by selling his home in Washington Park, an upscale Denver neighborhood.
“I used to say during the campaign, you shouldn’t have to sell your house to serve in the Senate,” Romanoff said, laughing about the matter. “I may never forgive myself for the debt, but I’m not going to sue myself.”
Like Norton, Romanoff has been holding periodic fundraising events in an effort to settle their debts.
Norton said he has no idea when, or even if, the FEC will approve the settlement plan, saying this is uncharted territory for his wife and him.
“This is not something that we’ve ever done before, but like they say about the farmer that hung himself, ‘He’d never done that before,’” Norton said. “We’re not quite sure how all this will work out. It’s like dealing with the IRS. Get all your I’s dotted and all your T’s crossed.”