Politics

Pawlenty staffers point fingers of blame at Nick Ayers for campaign debt

Photo of Alexis Levinson
Alexis Levinson
Political Reporter

As the team on Gov. Pawlenty’s now concluded presidential campaign works to recoup a campaign debt of some half-million dollars, their fingers have begun pointing toward the campaign’s manager, Nick Ayers, as the person to blame for the decisions that put the campaign into debt — and, by many accounts, as simply an unpleasant human being to work with.

“I would blame him 100 percent for racking up the debt,” said one senior staff member of the Pawlenty campaign.

Ayers declined to weigh in on that statement, or any of the others made in this story.

“I believe a campaign manager before, during, and after a campaign should accept responsibility and keep their mouth closed,” Ayers emailed. “So while there are always two sides to a story, mine won’t be one of them.”

Leaving the race with a campaign debt was an unforeseen development on the part of the candidate.

“The governor and Mary were very clear early on in the campaign that they did not, under any circumstances, want to go into debt,” said the senior staff member. “The governor laid out three criteria when announcing to his staff that he was running for president: 1) Run an ethical campaign. 2) Stay out of debt. 3) Win. In that order.”

In fact, sources confirmed on background, the initial plan was to have a fund set aside so that if the worst were to happen, there would be money set aside to help out staffers and pay off the campaign’s debts. That fund, however, was wiped out during Pawlenty’s short-lived campaign.

Pawlenty himself did not know his campaign was in debt when he chose to drop out of the race, according to another senior member of his campaign team. And Ayers, the campaign manager in charge of managing the big picture of the campaign, did not know either.

“It’s stunning that the Governor is in the position he’s in,” said the senior member of the team. “That should not happen … I mean, [Ayers] didn’t know that the debt was there. He wasn’t aware of what the debt level was.”

Pawlenty “didn’t get out of the race because he was in debt,” the senior member said. “I think he got out of the race because he didn’t want to go into debt.”

“He’s the person in charge,” the source said of Ayers. “How could he not know?”

By all accounts, Ayers “kept very close counsel,” making sure that all decisions went through him.

“There was a very clear — I would even call it a goal of his — to keep senior staff at a minimum and to limit the amount of people that were involved in decisions in a way that kind of allowed him to single handedly control everything,” said a third senior member of the campaign.

“In the beginning, you know, he is the campaign manager, so people went along with it,” the source continued. “Everybody said, ‘sure, you’re the campaign manager, let’s see what you have got,’ but then it almost became impossible for people to do their jobs or to be even be helpful in their roles.”

“Our roles were always encroached upon and corrected — sometimes wrongly corrected — by his overriding nature,” the source said.

“I think Gov Pawlenty had one of the most professional teams and experienced teams and people in different positions were not allowed to use their expertise,” the source added.