If you remember the plot of Mel Brooks’ classic movie, The Producers, the idea was that the scammers set out to produce the worst possible play imaginable to be certain it would close after one night. Yet, they made it so bad it broke through the membrane of awful into the sublime. And they were screwed. Which brings us to the Ben Carson campaign. There is a lot of evidence, coming from a variety of angles, that Carson for President is actually a direct mail scam. Or at least that it started that way.
First, let me explain a bit about what I mean.
Hucksters and cheats can be found everywhere. But particularly on the right there is a significant layer of people in the business of fleecing outraged and/or low-information conservatives of their money. Some of it you see with those advertisements for buying gold on Fox News. Another is supplements! Supplements, supplements, supplements – a topic we’ll get back to, given Carson’s controversial relationship with supplement maker Mannatech. But the big thing on the right are various fundraising groups that exist largely to fundraise. So for instance, you’ll have Americans Against RINOs which sends out a ton of direct mail, raises lots of money from conservatives who’ve just had it up to here with RINOs like Boehner and McCain and McConnell selling the country out to Obama. But instead of that money going to fight the RINOs, most of the money goes back into raising more money.
So where’s the money going? Well, the direct mail business is very lucrative. And usually you’ll find that Americans Against RINOs has a tight relationship with AAR Direct Mail Inc which is making a pretty penny servicing Americans Against RINOs. You get the idea. Obviously there are crooked charities that run this way. But it’s a prevalent model on the right.
And Ben Carson’s campaign look a bit similar. Ed Kilgore looked at some of the details here. David Graham has more here at The Altantic. Carson’s raising a lot of money from small donors – the usual marks. And at least until recently he’s shown very little inclination to invest in a field operation or really any of the things campaign raise money to do.
Now there are some explanations for this. Fundraising is often front loaded. You need to pour in money at the outset to build lists you’ll harvest more money from. And Carson’s not a ‘traditional’ candidate so maybe he doesn’t need a campaign. But these are the sorts of things you usually get from folks who are soaking their givers.
There are other versions of this story. Like why is Mike Huckabee running for President? Because he thinks he’s going to be president? Or because of the next Fox News gig or to draw a check or just to keep the name out there for the next promotion deal for Golds R’ Us or your home bunker and survival kit? There was some hint of this with the Gingrich campaign in 2012 before he improbably took off for his run as the anti-Romney.
In any case, as I said, whatever role Carson did or didn’t have with Mannatech, that’s a bit of a tell for me since, as I said, ‘supplements’ are an endemic part of the wingnut fleecing industry. And to be clear, I’m not saying that all vitamins and supplements are scams. But the ones that are scams know that conservative direct mail and digital advertising is the best place to go to sell their nostrums.
Back a couple weeks ago, one of the big questions was whether Trey Gowdy was fundraising off Benghazi. Well, “Trey Gowdy” was raising tons of money. But most of that was groups that at least had no legal connection to Gowdy and weren’t sending the money to Gowdy. And, you guessed it, most of the money they raise for “Trey Gowdy” goes into raising more money for “Trey Gowdy” or maybe next for “Ben Carson”. Who knows? It’s a dirty business.
Do I think Carson’s going to grab all the money and run off to Venezuela if he gets the nomination? No. I’m sure he’s pretty into this right now. But “Ben Carson” clearly comes out of this world. And his operation still seems mired in it.