WASHINGTON — As Howard Dean's presidential campaign tore through the millions it raised last year, nearly a quarter of it went to the firm owned in part by his former campaign manager.
The campaign paid $7.2 million to Trippi, McMahon and Squier, the Virginia-based consulting and media firm -- 23% of the $31 million it spent through Dec. 31, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, which tracks political spending.
Joe Trippi, one of the firm's partners, was Dean's campaign manager for a year -- until he was ousted last month and replaced by Roy Neel as chief executive. Dean asked Trippi to stay with the campaign as a senior advisor, but Trippi quit.
Instead of a salary, Trippi's firm had been paid a commission of the campaign's television advertising buys -- a percentage he and his firm's partners said he never knew.
"I didn't want to know. I didn't do this for the money," Trippi said. "I was interested in beating [President] Bush. I was interested in building a campaign that could get Howard Dean in position. I'm proud of what I did. Anyone who knows me knows my personal money was never, ever on my mind and it was nothing that motivated me."
Trippi is largely credited with turning the Dean campaign into a formidable political organization. He was the mastermind behind the campaign's innovative Internet strategy, which helped it raise $41 million last year, much of it online and in small donations.
Dean campaign spokeswoman Sarah Leonard defended the money that went to Trippi's firm, saying the firm had even discounted its commissions.
"TMS didn't make tons of money off the Dean campaign," she said.
Most of the money was spent on advertising.
The campaign paid the firm about $250,000 for media production costs and another $6.7 million for media time, space and expenses. Trippi, McMahon and Squier also received $312,000 for political consulting.
"The commissions we received were in line with or less than what other media firms have received from other presidential campaigns," said partner Steve McMahon.
He declined to reveal the percentage of the commissions.
Leonard said the money the Dean campaign spent on advertising last year was "not a high percentage compared to most political campaigns."
But Anthony Corrado, a professor of government at Colby College in Maine who is an expert in campaign spending, said the campaign's TV spending was "extraordinary" because it spent so much so early in the campaign.
"It's certainly out of scale in what you see in other presidential campaigns in other election cycles," he said.
Corrado also said that Trippi's dual roles -- as campaign manager and as a principal in the media firm -- "at least raises questions about conflicts."
Trippi dismissed such criticism.
"I had no conflict of interest because I wasn't interested in money," he said. "If I was doing it to get rich, I would have done a better job than this. I didn't have control of the checkbook."