Carson’s campaign benefits his brand
Washington — Ben Carson’s name and face adorn the walls of dozens of schools in the U.S. and a medical school in Nigeria. Mayors have handed him keys to their cities. His charity, founded in 1994, created a national day in his honor each year, celebrated by the children who sit in elementary school reading rooms named after him.
All of this is part of a well-honed enterprise that promotes Ben Carson — presidential candidate, political commentator, paid speaker, author, neurosurgeon and champion of children, reading and God.
He has folded into Carson Enterprises his presidential campaign, which has excelled at fundraising, bringing in almost $32 million through the end of September — more than any other 2016 Republican candidate. That fundraising prowess continues, even as his poll numbers decline. His campaign manager Barry Bennett said Thursday they raised about $20 million since the beginning of October, matching their extraordinary summertime pace. Speaking fees over a nearly two-year period raked in $4.3 million. And his nonprofit continues to raise money.
It’s hard to see where one Carson stops and another begins.
“I think as people get to know me they’ll be able to see exactly who I am,” Carson said in an interview with The Associated Press in late October. “I don’t worry about that.”
Since he declared his candidacy, Carson has traveled the country for his campaign, to promote his new book, to attend events for his charity and to give paid speeches.
Carson’s campaign imposed boundaries to separate his politicking from a two-week publicity tour promoting his latest book. His book tour website also links to his official campaign website. And Carson’s book sales benefit significantly from his political rise. Since he declared his candidacy, more than 52,000 copies of versions of his signature book, “Gifted Hands,” have sold, according to industry statistics from Nielsen BookScan.
Most candidates focus only on their campaigns to avoid potential violations, said Lawrence Noble of the Campaign Finance Center, a Washington non-profit group that promotes transparency in politics. For instance, if a candidate is getting paid to speak at an event, he or she has to make sure not to mix that with campaigning, he said. Continuing with paid speeches, book promotion tours and charity events and keeping those separate from the campaign is a challenge.
“It’s very difficult to do, and the dangers are high,” Noble said.
Carson has continued to give paid speeches since he declared his bid for the presidency, and in some cases, he’s had political events around the same time.
Since May when he declared his candidacy, he’s been paid to speak at seven events, bringing in between $210,000 and $500,000, according to a financial disclosure he was required by law to file in June. Carson was not required to disclose the exact amounts because the speeches hadn’t taken place at the time he filed. When asked about the exact amounts, Carson’s spokesman said the campaign would not be providing that information. “Don’t see the need beyond what is required by FEC,” Doug Watts said in an email, referring to the Federal Election Commission.
What Carson says at these paid speaking events is critical to evaluating whether Carson violated any campaign laws, Noble said. But most of the paid-speaking events are not open to the public.
Another GOP candidate, Carly Fiorina, has been criticized for giving paid speeches after declaring her candidacy. But her campaign told ABC News that the money she earns from the speeches goes directly to charity.
Recently, Carson was paid between $15,001 and $50,000 to speak to a group of young CEOs in Cincinnati, but his campaign did not announce his trip, because it was not a public event. The organization, YPO Cincinnati, declined to allow reporters to attend the event.
“By contract with Dr. Carson, this program is closed to all media,” said Cindy Petrie, administrator of the YPO Cincinnati chapter.
After the event, however, Carson spoke to the media about reducing poverty, the national debt and terrorism.
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