When retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson announced his bid for the GOP nomination earlier this week,everything about it was unconventional — including the gospel choir crooning an Eminem song and Carson’s wife playing the violin. But breaking the mold is apparently paying off: Carson’s presidential exploratory committee raised $2.1 million over just 29 days in March, Federal Election Commission filings show. And long before Carson began exploring a run, a super PAC set up to encourage him — theNational Draft Ben Carson for President Committee — raised a whopping $13.5 million. Establishment candidates may not think much of him, but Carson’s name appears to be campaign finance gold.
And most of that money didn’t come from the usual donors giving a couple thousand dollars each. The exploratory committee, now a presidential campaign committee, reported raising 71 percent of its total take, or roughly $1.5 million, from donors giving $200 or less. These “small” contributions are reported as a lump sum, without donors being individually named, so most of Carson’s enthusiasts are impossible to identify. But of the 1,443 people who made donations between $200 and $5,400 (the maximum this cycle to a campaign), the majority gave gave amounts at the lower end of the scale: Eighty-four percent wrote checks for less than $500. No headliner names showed up among those who made donations of $5,000 or more. In contrast to candidates like Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who appear to be courting donor royalty, there were no donors who have previously shelled out millions, or even tens of thousands, for super PACs in previous cycles.When candidates raise a lot of money from small donors, they can go back to the well and hit them up for more money later on.
Meanwhile, some data raise troubling questions about the super PAC
But, unlike Carson’s campaign thus far, the super PAC spent money as fast as it could raise it. In the 2014 cycle, the group parted with $12.8 million, almost none of which was spent to directly boost Carson’s 2016 presidential effort. While super PACs are primarily designed to spend big on independent expenditures — political advertising that isn’t coordinated with a candidate but which explicitly advocates for them, the National Draft Ben Carson Committee spent only $480,000 on these types of ads, specifically a series of radio ads that attacked Democratic Sens. Kay Hagan(N.C.) and Mary Landrieu (La.). The vast majority of the money spent by the super PAC — more than $10 million — was for fundraising costs. Another $259,000 went to buying copies of Carson’s book.