COLLEGE PARK – Barbara Osborn Kreamer hasn’t run for a federal office in years. Her Aberdeen home isn’t even any longer in the 2nd District, where she ran unsuccessfully for Congress.
But Kreamer’s name has regularly shown up on the Federal Election Commission list of active campaign committees because of a $37,093 debt her campaign racked up 12 years ago.
She lost the primary, got the bill, and there was little she could do.
Kreamer is just one of nine former congressional candidates in Maryland whose campaign files have remained active long after the campaign has gone, because of outstanding debts at the start of the election cycle.
Both parties say they discuss finances when they speak with candidates, but that the bill can still come as a shock.
“Do we offer debt advice?” asked David Paulson, communications director for the state’s Democratic Party. “Sure. We advise our candidates to pay off their debts.
“That gets hard when they’re surprised with a debt after they’ve lost the primary,” he added.
Despite the losses, however, many of those who wind up in debt can’t seem to let go of politics.
Donald DeArmon lost $38,000 of the $40,000 he loaned his campaign in a 2000 bid to unseat Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, in Western Maryland’s 6th District. DeArmon, a Democrat, is back again this year to challenge Bartlett.
“I know the risks challengers face, but you have to try,” DeArmon said.
“I’m not rich by any stretch of the imagination, and with four kids, I didn’t have the money to lose,” DeArmon said of the $40,000 loan to his campaign two years ago. “But I made the loan at a time when the campaign was rolling right along.
“My supporters were pouring money in and I wanted to step up to the plate and show how far I was willing to go to win,” he said.
The parties say debt is just one negative aspect of campaigns that could easily be avoided.
“Candidates have to have a realistic expectation that campaigns cost money and have to be adequately financed,” Maryland Republican Party Executive Director Paul Ellington said.
Perennial candidate Gene Zarwell learned that lesson the hard way. Now when he campaigns, he tries to do it without money.
Zarwell said advertising isn’t what it used to be. He is counting on his web site, www.cccwebs.com/gzarwell, and a strong message-driven push late in the campaign to help him win the comptroller’s race this year.
That is a change from his campaigns in 1988 and 1992, when he ran for Senate as E. Robert Zarwell. A debt of $23,000 from those campaigns was still showing up on FEC reports in the 2001-2002 election cycle.
Zarwell said that debt was mostly a personal loan from his pocketbook, and that it was just a fraction of the campaign’s cost. He said his failed campaigns forced him to trade his waterfront home for a rented apartment, cost him $600,000 and his marriage.
“No, I don’t regret running,” Zarwell said, although the friendships that have suffered in the wake of his campaign are something he fears are lost forever.
Campaign debt is not a life sentence, however. After more than a decade on the books, the FEC agreed in this election cycle that both Zarwell and Kreamer can stop filing campaign reports, despite their outstanding debts.
Kreamer said she never expects to be able to pay her earlier debts and that the creditors stopped calling years ago.
She wrote to her supporters and contributors for help after her failed 1990 campaign. She said some money trickled in, but not nearly enough to pay off the debt.
While most of the money was owed to advertising firms, another $10,000 came in the form of a loan from the candidate.
“I know I’m never going to get that money back, so I know how disappointing it can be for the people the campaign owed,” she said.
Kreamer won’t give up, though. She is running this year to for a seat on the Harford County Council.
“I wouldn’t tell anyone not to run,” Kreamer said, “but they should know the risks.”