Carson Super PAC Shell Game Shows Convergence of Professional Fundraising & Conservative Politics
Last week the Los Angeles Times ran a story highlighting the latest stage in the malignant development of super PACs. The very same people who call elderly people on the phone on behalf of charities, keeping 85-90% of the funds raised for themselves, are now very much in cahoots with conservative politics.
The focus of this story is American Legacy PAC, tied to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Mike Murray, a heavyweight in the world of direct marketing. This organization ran an anti-Obamacare campaign called “Save Our Healthcare” in 2014 with Dr. Ben Carson as its spokesman.
Largely thanks to Carson fans, the campaign raised close to $6 million. What the donors didn’t realize is that nearly all of their money went to consultants and fundraisers. Only 2% of these funds ended up in the hands of Republican politicians or committees.
Though American Legacy didn’t raise much money for Obamacare-hating Republicans, it was a success at something else — finding people willing to give to Carson. Using those names, and another list generated by a second “super PAC,” Carson’s campaign built a network of individual donors that has far outraised those of his rivals.
At the end of the day, this “Save Our Healthcare” campaign was little more than a prospecting operation to identify potential Carson presidential campaign donors:
Of the more than 4,000 donors to American Legacy, more than 25% also ended up giving to the Carson campaign, a Los Angeles Times analysis showed.
Unsurprisingly, this has paid off handsomely…for some:
Using the same playbook, and some of the same firms, the campaign pulled in about $20 million during the third quarter, far more than any other GOP candidate. But it’s also costing Carson a lot to keep his fundraising machine going — more than $14.7 million this year for mail, phone and Web marketing firms, postage, printing and other expenses. Another $1.2 million went to political consultants, campaign reports show.
In other words, about 75% of the money donated to Carson’s campaign in the third quarter went toward more fundraising. The Supreme Court has long held that requiring professional fundraisers to disclose fundraising costs when soliciting for charities is unconstitutional, so it is not reasonable to expect political fundraisers to do this either. Even so, how many of the Carson loving/Obamacare hating donors to “Save Our Healthcare” understood how their money would be used? The Times story quotes two elderly donors who certainly had no idea. It is hard to imagine they are the only ones!
The story also notes that InfoCision and an associated digital firm have received close to $7 million from the Carson campaign. If the InfoCision name rings all bell, that would be because it is the second largest “teleservices” firm in the nation, operating phone rooms staffed by thousands of people in 3 states. It received significant scrutiny three years ago after accusations of questionable fundraising practices on behalf of the American Diabetes Association.
The fact that there is a “conservative grift machine” (as Mother Jones calls it) is not likely to be news to anyone reading this. The worrying development here is the full involvement of organizations that do nothing but churn donated money, and at a volume that makes conservative groups seem like amateurs by comparison.