By Kim Barker: He may be in last place when it comes to delegates, but when it comes to filing expense reports with the FEC, Ron Paul beats
His campaign's hyper-vigilance is notable, verging on fanatical.
Every bank fee, every 22 cents at a FedEx, every $1 toll on the Florida turnpike, every $5.09 pit stop at any Starbucks anywhere, every doughnut from Dunkin' Donuts and Dough Nutz -- it's all right there, itemized in the Paul campaign's copious expenditure reports. In 160 instances so far, the campaign has reported purchases costing a single dollar or less.
Last week, ProPublica examined the spending of the five presidential candidates and the major super PACs, identifying their 200 top payees. But as part of digging into the more than $306 million spent through February, it was impossible to avoid the other end of the spectrum: The small bucks, if you will.
The Paul campaign tracks every cent like no other, which Paul campaign officials say is deliberate.
"We take the trust our donors place in us very seriously and are deeply committed to transparency and accuracy in our reporting," wrote Paul's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, in an email response to ProPublica.
Under Federal Election Commission rules, campaigns only have to disclose expenditures of more than $200 per election cycle to an individual or a vendor. And, for most campaigns, that's mostly how it works. Sure, there's the odd $1 rental car expense for Mitt Romney's campaign, a few $5 bank fees for Newt Gingrich, and the inexplicable one-cent expense reported by Rick Santorum to the Stoney Creek Inn in Johnston, Iowa. But generally, they don't sweat the small stuff.
By and large, neither does President Barack Obama's campaign, which explains on its reports that it specifies travel reimbursements totaling over $500 to any individual and payments to vendors that exceed $200 for the election cycle, but otherwise doesn't itemize.
That just won't do for the Paul campaign. A similar thoroughness seems to extend to one of the super PACs supporting him, Endorse Liberty. Super PACs, like other outside spending groups, are supposed to file reports of independent expenditures2014TV ads or phone calls or direct mail on behalf of or against a candidate2014within a day or two, depending on the time in the election cycle. But Endorse Liberty files all expense within 48 hours, including the $71.92 spent at Captain George's Seafood Restaurant on Feb. 13 and the 8 cents paid to Google for online advertising on Feb. 27.
Paul's expenditures show what it's like to run for president and life on the trail. It's a journey through gas stations and fast-food joints in towns like Romeoville, Ill., Sugar Land, Texas, and Correctionville, Iowa. There's a kind of poetry to the purchases, which range from the austere ($59.50 for meals at the Puritan Backroom), to the whimsical ($28.43 for a meal at The Peddler's Daughter) to the downright depressing ($26.72 for catering from Little Caesars pizza in Colorado on New Year's Day).
Like Paul himself, the campaign staffers often seem to value thrift. On Oct. 18, for instance, someone spent $1.09 for office equipment at the Dollar Tree in Baton Rouge. Eight days later, someone else spent $1 at a Salvation Army on Sheep Davis Road in New Hampshire for event supplies.
Staffers often ate cheap, spending $1.39 for a meal at the Circle K in El Dorado, Kan., on Sept. 27, $1.27 at the Kwik Star in Charles City, Iowa, on Dec. 9, and 99 cents at the Conoco in Moses Lake, Wash., on Feb. 20. Well, maybe they weren't meals.
"We actually don't have any food here," said Chris Chase, the manager of that Conoco, who didn't recall anyone from the Paul campaign and actually had never heard of the Paul campaign. "We've got some candies. Suckers are under $1. We've got some protein bars for 99 cents, some Planters peanuts for 59 cents."
There were a few splurges: For example, the $26,690.01 listed for staying at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nev.
Though exhaustive, the Paul campaign's record of purchases sometimes left us wanting to know even more. How is it possible to stop 119 times at the same Kum & Go gas station in Ankeny, Iowa? And what office supply was possibly downloaded for $1.07 on iTunes on Nov. 25?
We asked, but the campaign offered no response. Sadly, we may never know. (Update: Thanks to Twitter, we can report that the Kum & Go is less than a half-mile from Paul's Iowa headquarters.)
This story was orginally co-published on ProPublica and Yahoo! News.