Republican presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson addresses supporters at Spring Arbor University in Spring Arbor, Mich., Sept. 23, 2015. 
Photo by Carlos Osorio/AP

Ben Carson raises $20 million in third quarter


Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson raised at least $20.2 million during the past three months, his campaign confirmed Wednesday, and the candidate will enter the month of October with at least $12 million cash on hand.

Carson was the first Republican presidential contender to announce his third-quarter haul, and it’s sure to put him in a strong position in the primary field. Communications director Doug Watts said the campaign was impressed by the depth of Carson’s support, as shown through the commitment thousands of small-dollar donors have had to giving repeatedly to the candidate.

“The intensity of our support is so great that it’s — not quite surprising, but it’s a little bit overwhelming,” he said.

Carson frequently speaks on the trail about skeptics who initially panned his bid because he didn’t have any billionaire backers, like most front-running presidential contenders. “But they forgot one thing: We the people,” he says in his stump speech.

And the $20.2 million haul indeed came from “we the people,” hundreds of thousands of small-dollar donors giving to the candidate again and again. Watts said Carson has drawn over 600,000 donations from all 50 states since he launched his campaign, from 353,000 unique donors, and his average donation is $51. 

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The $20.2 million haul means the campaign can look ahead to the “SEC primary” states, the handful of Southern states that vote early in March and offer candidates a huge delegate pile. Watts said the campaign is moving forward with plans to reserve airtime in states holding March 1, March 5 and March 8 primaries, for two weeks before the primary day.

The inspiration for the campaign’s fundraising strategy came from an unlikely source: President Obama, who, as a relatively unknown senator from Illinois during his first run, revolutionized online fundraising and was able to amass millions in small-dollar donations by gathering lists of committed and passionate supporters, which he tapped again and again.

“We’re proud to say that [Obama] was our inspiration,” Watts said. “We considered that the gold standard. We knew we couldn’t go out and raise money in $2,700 increments just off the street, so how else can we do this?

“We can do this intelligently, using the internet, some other tools, our own good sense — we can raise money just the way Obama did,” he said.

Carson last quarter drew scrutiny for his campaign’s lavish spending on travel and entertainment, and the first two candidates in the field — former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — were recently forced to drop out of the race due to financial struggles. 

But with $12 million in the bank and a fundraising pace that Watts said has doubled every month since July, that’s likely not a concern of Carson’s for some time. Watts said the campaign’s focus on online fundraising is a much more cost-effective way to raise money, and insisted the campaign is aware of its spending.

“Do we have extravagant expenses? Absolutely not,” he said. “When we have to use a private plane or charter, it’s because the demands of the schedule are great. We always apply a cost-benefit anaysis” on expenditures.

“We’re pretty cognizant of the need to be frugal,” he added.