Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson answers questions from members of the press after delivering brief remarks to supporters on Oct. 16, 2015 in Alexandria, Va.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty

On Carson’s book tour, politics and business are blurred


WACO, Texas – At Dr. Ben Carson’s book tour, the line between politics and book-selling has blurred as fans and volunteers push the limits and practicality of trying to keep separate a presidential campaign and a publisher-funded promotional tour. 

Carson is a leading candidate for the Republican 2016 nomination. But despite election laws meant to silo business, political committees, and presidential campaigns from one another, the distinctions have been largely lost on voters and blurred at events across Texas, where Carson is promoting his new book, “A More Perfect Union.”

The pro-Carson super PAC The 2016 Committee – also known as the Draft Ben Carson for President Committee and Run, Ben, Run! – has been disavowed by the campaign in the past. But while FEC regulation mandates the campaign remain separate from the book tour, there’s nothing stopping the super PAC from showing up and campaigning on his behalf.

Some super PAC volunteers told voters they were with the campaign, while others simply said they were volunteers for the candidate, seemingly unaware of the separation required by federal law.
At three stops across the state, volunteers from a super PAC supporting Carson’s presidential candidacy rallied fans behind his campaign and distributed materials advertising the retired neurosurgeon’s stance on issues, operating out of an RV emblazoned with Carson’s face. In Waco, a fan told MSNBC he gave the candidate a campaign donation during a signing.

“This is a book signing, but virtually everything you do in a presidential campaign is construed as a campaign event,” Carson told reporters at Costco in Austin, after signing hundreds of copies of his book, which explains the candidate’s political views in depth.

Since federal election law requires the book tour and campaign to be separate, the campaign has said they won’t send staff to these events. But with the super PAC showing up, the distinctions are largely lost.

Carol Ayala, a Carson fan who showed up at the book tour to volunteer for the presidential campaign, headed off to help the super PAC instead. “Apparently they’re separate,” Ayala told MSNBC. 

The distinction was apparently lost on some super PAC volunteers as well. Some told voters they were with the campaign, while others simply said they were volunteers for the candidate, seemingly unaware of the separation required by federal law. Only a handful actually told reporters they were from the PAC when asked.

“Are you on his mailing list?” one PAC volunteer shouted to lines of fans standing outside a Barnes & Noble on Monday night.

In Austin, volunteer Jeannie Ralph said she was “with the campaign, not the super PAC” while gathering signatures of fans standing in line for the book. Another volunteer, Debra Breshers, she was there from the campaign to “rally the troops.” Campaign aides says they don’t know the women; online, they are identified as volunteers for the super PAC.

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As Carson signed books in the fast-moving line of fans, one young man handed the candidate an envelope, which the candidate put in his breast pocket; he later told MSNBC it was a $500 donation, and a resume, as he hopes to work for the candidate.

The campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.