On October 1, 2015, as the fourth quarter of the year began, Ben Carson was a serious GOP presidential contender. With a national average of more than 16 percent in the Republican nomination contest polling, he was just seven points behind frontrunner Donald Trump and more than 4 points ahead of third place candidate Carly Fiorina.
Though his campaign raised more than $22 million over the final three months of 2015 — the most of any Republican hopeful — he ended the year a seemingly spent force. As of January 1, 2016, he had fallen to fourth place nationally and dropped to just 8.8 percent support. As of Sunday, his national support was just 7.6 percent, according to Real Clear Politics’ poll average.
But while Carson declined in the polls, a small group saw its fortunes on the rise: his campaign advisors and consultants. Already under fire for a campaign spending model that bore the marking of a direct mail scam, Carson’s newly disclosed fourth quarter spending shows huge payments to companies controlled by his current and former advisors.
The campaign spent more than $27 million over that period. $4.7 million of that went to Eleventy Marketing Group, mostly for its “digital media/web service.” The Akron, Ohio-based company president, Ken Dawson, is also the Carson campaign’s chief marketing officer. According to the company’s website, “Ken Dawson has played a pivotal role” in the Carson campaign’s “unprecedented efforts to click with supporters” via Facebook. Eleventy’s other clients include TMA Direct.
TMA Direct received $2.8 million from the Carson campaign over the same period for web services, mailings, and list rental. Mike Murray is Carson’s senior advisor for grassroots marketing and TMA’s president and CEO. His official biography also notes that he founded the American Legacy Political Action Committee and that its Save Our Healthcare program was chaired by Carson. Murray also serves as managing partner for Precision Data Management, which received an additional $217,000 from the campaign for web services.
Communication Management Source hauled in more than $1.2 million from Carson’s campaign coffers for travel expenses. The company is run by Joann Parker, wife of then-Carson finance chairman Dean Parker. His Vita Capital also received more than $138,000 for supplies, travel, and event expenses. Dean Parker was one of many Carson staffers to resign last month, amid criticism of his reported $20,000 monthly fee. At the time, Parker said he’d told Carson, “I love you. I know you love me. We’ve been great friends. We will continue to be great friends. I’m wondering if the best thing I could do is to get rid of this attention because nothing was done wrong, and we don’t need the media building this up.”
The campaign also paid more than $2.3 million to InfoCision, a controversial company that has previously raised money for political action committees that spent the bulk of their money on overhead only.
On MSBNC Monday, Carson boasted that his campaign is in excellent shape. “The espirit de corps is great, it’s fabulous, finances are much better,” Carson argued. “I’m loving it right now.”
An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Dean Parker in the photo.