Four days before Ben Carson finally wrapped up his failed candidacy, his campaign paid $348,141 to a direct mail company. The same amount was paid at the start of the month to Pennsylvania-based Action Mailers, bringing the company’s February total close to $1 million.
That same day, a web service provider for Carson’s campaign (run by the candidate’s chief marketing officer) was paid $59,000. In February, as the campaign limped to an end, checks totaling $651,000 were sent to Eleventy for web services.
Carson, in an interview with CNN after he announced that he would be dropping out of the race, said “We had people who didn’t really seem to understand finances, or maybe they did—maybe they were doing it on purpose.”
In total, through the end of February, Carson’s campaign raised $63 million and spent $58 million, according to FEC filings.
Much of that money came from small individual donations, and much of it was spent on a handful of companies tasked with raising money from those individual donors. There are many links between companies paid money by his campaign and the individuals who surrounded Carson.
Eleventy, whose president, Ken Dawson, was the campaign’s marketing chief, received close to $6 million over the course of the campaign. Action Mailers received over $5 million. Carson spent just over $5 million on television buys, less even than Donald Trump, whose “free media” campaign has kept his ad expenses incredibly low. Just as important, Carson spent little on developing a ground game.
“There’s a lot of people who love me, they just won’t vote for me,” Carson said as he bowed out. Hundreds of thousands loved him enough to give money to what they thought was an actual campaign.
The rise of super PACs in the aftermath of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision has often dominated the discussion over money in politics in recent election cycles. There is much more to the tale. It’s not just about who is spending the cash, but where it’s going.
Harpers Magazine, in its April cover story, delves into the world of “strategists, pollsters, TV-ad makers, media buyers, direct-mail specialists, broadcasters, and other subcategories of what we should properly call the election-industrial complex.” Its conclusion leaves the reader feeling, if only for a moment, somewhat sorry for the billionaires and multi-millionaires pumping money into elections. It’s all wasted extremely efficiently, mostly on advertising buys.
Exhibit A: Jeb Bush, whose campaign and supportive PACs spent close to $150 million on his failed candidacy, with nothing to show for it but… well, actually, there’s just nothing to show for it.
The big winners are consultants and television companies.
Les Moonves, chairman of CBS, made it clear, twice, that what may be bad for America is very good for his company. “Super PACs may be bad for America,” Moonves said following the 2012 election, “but they’re very good for CBS.” That year, CBS made $180 million out of the election.
This election cycle, not only are broadcasters pulling in cash from advertising, they also have Donald Trump to thank for an unprecedented ratings spike.
“It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” Moonves told a media conference in San Francisco in December. “Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now? … The money’s rolling in and this is fun,” Moonves said.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”
Photo: Supporters of Dr. Ben Carson congregate near Dr. Carson’s book tour bus after a book signing in Ames, Iowa.