The Campaign Spot

How Much Campaign Debt Did Obama Put On His Credit Cards?

In light of the Obama’s tales of financial woe from earlier in their career, there’s something else that doesn’t quite add up.

The Chicago Tribune noted some oddities on this topic, noting:

As for income, they earned a combined household total of slightly more than $240,000 in 2000, according to tax records they have since made public. (Their income fluctuated in that range until 2005, when they reported earning $1.6 million.)
But it’s unclear how much their college loan debts were, and aides to the Obama campaign said last week that they could not immediately provide records to clarify.
However, Michelle Obama graduated from Harvard Law School in 1988 and her husband graduated in 1991, around the time when the school’s dean estimated the cost of a Harvard law degree at $62,200. They both also earned undergraduate degrees from Ivy League schools.

That article also notes, “In 1993 they bought a condominium in Hyde Park for $277,500, paying about $111,000 as a down payment, according to county real estate records.”
By 1993 they have $110,000 as a down payment? (Assistance from relatives is possible, I suppose. And perhaps part of that number reflects part of his book advance? Obama graduated Harvard Law in 1991, and that year he got his book deal to write Dreams From My Father. Although I had figured he had burned through his advance, as profiles of Obama state the “modest advance allowed him to set aside six months after he graduated to write.”)
The Tribune notes that “Michelle Obama tells audiences, the couple’s college loan payments cost them more than their monthly mortgage.” Well, when you put down a down payment of 40 percent of the total price, your monthly mortgage payment ought to be pretty reasonable.
But they still have such debt from their school loans, and are in such financial dire straits, that Obama’s credit card is rejected when he goes to rent a car at the 2000 Democratic Convention? With a household income of more than $240,000? They’re two ivy-league educated lawyers with much of a Hyde Park condo paid down; just how much credit card debt did they have?
There’s one possible explanation that would explain a great deal… if Obama put a lot of campaign expenses from his 1999-2000 run for the House of Representatives on his personal credit cards. Below, I mention what a longshot effort it was, and how many people had urged him against it. If Obama did indeed put large amounts of campaign expenses on his credit cards, it’s easy to argue that Obama gambled rather recklessly with his family’s financial future.
This is personal stuff, many might argue, and irrelevant to evaluating him as a candidate. But considering the themes of his campaign — judgment is more important that experience, I can restore fiscal discipline, I am the candidate who is wiser in evaluating risk and determining the best course of action — this is a potential landmine.
UPDATE: The New York Times found a few answers last month.

When Mr. Obama decided to run for Congress in 2000 against the former Black Panther Bobby Rush, he used a $9,500 personal loan to help finance the campaign. When he lost, he found himself broke and fielding questions from the Federal Election Commission about his campaign finances. He later had to lend his campaign committee $11,100 more to cover refunds to donors who had inadvertently given too much.
It took him two years to repay his own loans, mostly with small checks from black executives who agreed to help him prepare for another run.

It’s still not entirely clear whether these debts include the amount that Chicago Tribune reporter is referring to when he writes, “He had maxed out his credit card, partly on campaign expenses.”

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