Money

Joseph Tanfani and Maloy Moore
November 25, 2015

Before he entered the race for the White House, Ben Carson signed on to a campaign to raise money to fight Obamacare. When Juanita McMillon saw his name, she was eager to get out her checkbook.

“I think he is sincere, and I think he is honest, and I think he is exactly what we need,” said McMillon, 80, from the small town of De Kalb in northeast Texas. She gave $350.

Her money went to the American Legacy PAC, an organization with ties to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. With Carson as the face of its Save Our Healthcare campaign, American Legacy raised close to $6 million in 2014 — and spent nearly all of it paying the consultants and firms that raised the money. Just 2% was donated to Republican candidates and committees, financial reports show.

“I’m really careful who I give money to, but I guess I did not read it close enough,” McMillon said, adding that she had never heard of American Legacy. “I prefer to give money to individuals, and I assumed, I guess, that Dr. Carson was getting my money.”

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.

The fundraising operation also has proved rewarding for the consultants running it. The founder and treasurer of American Legacy, a Virginia-based direct-marketing consultant, is now a senior finance advisor for Carson’s campaign, which has paid his firms $2.8 million.

The story behind the creation of Carson’s fundraising network is another example of the way that super PACs, which are supposed to be independent from campaigns, have become more entangled with candidates than ever before. It also illustrates how effective the checks of tens of thousands of small donors, many of them of modest means, can be at enriching campaign consultants.

Unleashed by Citizens United and other court decisions, super PACs have spent lavishly on ad campaigns.

But American Legacy’s approach was different. Using old-school tactics like direct mail and telemarketing — mainstays of conservative fundraising campaigns for decades — consultants sent out blanket appeals, “prospecting” for passionate Carson supporters.

Many turned out to be older, conservative voters captivated by his religious faith and up-from-poverty life story.

One of them was 90-year-old Hazel T. Donnell, from Centennial, Colo., who gave $300. Like McMillon, she said she didn’t know she was giving to American Legacy.

“I didn’t give to anybody but Ben Carson, not to any other organization,” Donnell said. “I thought it was all about Carson.”

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