Would you pay Mark Penn $5 million?

Want to retire Hillary Clinton's campaign debt? Make that check out to Penn, Schoen & Berland, the firm run by her former chief strategist.

Published April 10, 2009 8:30PM (EDT)

If you're a Hillary Clinton supporter thinking of entering that raffle James Carville announced Thursday, you might want to take a minute to think about it. At this point, your money is likely to go to the man largely credited with tanking Clinton's presidential hopes -- 90 percent of her campaign's remaining debt is owed to a firm run by Mark Penn.

The Hillary Clinton for President committee was, at one point, saddled with more than $25 million in debt, but that number is now down to less than $6 million. Most of the difference comes from Clinton having forgiven $13 million in loans she made to her campaign. The rest is the result of months of fundraising efforts, and a slow but steady process of paying off numerous creditors. 

A list of creditors included the campaign's July filing with the Federal Election Commission stretches for 122 pages, but as of the campaign's 2008 year-end disclosure report, only five companies were owed money. The remaining debt totals $5.94 million, and $5.36 million of that is owed to Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, whose president, Mark Penn, was Clinton's chief strategist until he resigned that post one year ago. In total, at that point, the company had billed the campaign roughly $14 million.

The reason Penn's company is still owed so much, while so many other creditors have been made whole, is that not one cent of the campaign's debt to the firm has yet been paid. In fact, it's increased slightly. That stands in contrast with other companies, some of which were paid in installments.

It's possible that this was a deliberate snub. The people who took over Clinton's campaign when Penn left were no friends of his -- there was constant sniping over the blame for her failed run, much of it focused at the former chief strategist. Plus, at least some of the money to pay down the debt was collected with the help of fundraisers for President Obama. According to the Washington Post, the Obama camp didn't want contributions it helped raise going to Penn, who was particularly harsh in his criticisms of the opposition during the Democratic primaries. Former spokespeople for Clinton's campaign didn't respond to voicemails left seeking comment; neither did a spokeswoman for Penn, Schoen & Berland.

Ironically, the delay in paying Penn's firm might have lessened the prospect that the debt to the company will ever be fully paid off. It's hard enough to raise money when your big-money donors have maxed out, when the election's over and everyone's moved on and when your candidate can't even participate in fundraising because she's become secretary of state. But add to that the fact that it's Penn who stands to benefit most from these latest efforts, and the job becomes even tougher.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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