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Former Huntsman backers join Gingrich, Romney

 

BEDFORD, N.H. -- Two high-profile supporters of Jon Huntsman announced they would support rival campaigns, a development coming just hours before the former Utah governor and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich meet on Monday at a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate.

Richard Brothers, a former state commissioner of employment security and a core member of Huntsman's New Hampshire leadership team, has "sever[ed] all bonds" with the campaign in an email to senior staff, citing a "lack of integrity and honesty of the parties within the campaign” regarding financial matters.

Huntsman's former campaign manager, Susie Wiles, is now supporting Mitt Romney in Florida.

Brothers moved quickly to endorse Newt Gingrich Sunday night. He will serve as a veterans’ affairs advisor in a volunteer capacity, the Gingrich campaign told NBC News.

Wiles will be named Romney's Florida advisory council co-chair, according to Romney spokesman Ryan Williams. Wiles was replaced on the Huntsman campaign by Matt David this summer.

At the same time as these exits, the Huntsman campaign sought to project an image of growing support, rolling out a statewide leadership team in New Hampshire consisting of 140 supporters and volunteer captains from all 10 counties in the state, and 90 towns and cities.

New Hampshire state Senator Nancy Stiles will chair the grassroots get-out-the-vote effort for the January 10 primary.

In an email Saturday evening to Huntsman’s chief strategist John Weaver, campaign manager Matt David, New Hampshire state director Sarah Crawford Stewart and other Huntsman staff, Brothers complained of financial troubles that caused him to abandon the Huntsman campaign. NBC News obtained a copy of the email from a high-level source close to the Gingrich campaign.

Brothers complained that the Huntsman campaign entered an agreement with Reliant Strategies -- an entity made up of Brothers and fellow early supporter Peter Spaulding -- to serve as consultants to the campaign at a rate of $15,000 per month beginning March 10, 2011. In the message, Brothers said the Huntsman campaign had not made payments from July through December. In November, Brothers said he requested payment for past due payments, but was informed by the campaign that the original $15,000 rate had been dropped to $5,000 without his prior consent, effective August 1.

Using dramatic language, Brothers called the unannounced rate change “nothing short of disgraceful and what can only be termed outrageous."

“Had we been informed in advance by the campaign there was a financial issue where the campaign was unable to meet its agreed upon obligations to Reliant Strategies we may very well have waved our agreed upon fees and continued to work on a voluntary basis as we had done on the first three months of this year,” Brothers added.

The Huntsman campaign denied the allegations.

"Richard Brothers had left the campaign and his accusations are false, we wish him the best in his future endeavors," Huntsman spokesperson Tim Miller told NBC News.

Miller also responded to the news of Wiles’ endorsement of Romney, saying, "Governor Romney's unusual decision to announce a paid political consultants ‘endorsement’ shows that his campaign is very concerned about Jon Huntsman's New Hampshire momentum and consistent conservative message."

Bleak finances have plagued the Huntsman campaign since the summer. According to the most recent FEC report, the campaign is approximately $900,000 in debt. It has depended on Our Destiny PAC, a pro-Huntsman super PAC believed to be funded largely by Huntsman's billionaire father, to air television ads.

The Romney campaign clarified in an email to NBC News that Wiles' position is unpaid.