The Ben Carson Super PAC has some money issues

The campaign to draft Dr. Ben Carson into a presidential run is clearly bigger than some flash in the pan and worthy of serious consideration, particularly given his showings in multiple polls. (Of course, I’ve been of the opinion for some time that he really doesn’t need that much coaxing and may well be enjoying the idea of needing to be teased into the fight.) One group which is most directly involved in the effort is Run Ben Run, which has already raised more than $12M toward the effort. But where is that money now? For the most part, it’s already gone.

Mr. Giles, who is preparing to be campaign chairman, projected raising $100 million to fuel a Carson campaign through the first four primaries by tapping small donors. Already, the Run Ben Run effort, a “super PAC,” has raised $12.2 million.

But behind that impressive cash haul is the problem facing most small-donor fund-raising: The group spent most of its income on direct mail and similar activities to raise its funds, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Armstrong Williams, Mr. Carson’s business manager and closest adviser, whose nickname for his friend is “Seabiscuit,” complained that Run Ben Run exists “to benefit the people that run it, not the Ben who’s running.”

The super PAC’s greatest asset is its record of thousands of small donors excited by Mr. Carson. But a Carson campaign would have to pay to use that list.

Both of the arguments in play over the PAC money should be familiar to political observers. On the one hand, running any sort of broad effort to raise awareness is expensive. Television ads in large markets are obviously pricey, but direct mail isn’t cheap either, particularly if you are talking about a national campaign rather than a single district. Sometimes the best you can do is hope to raise enough cash to pay for the next round of mailings, and in the process somehow raise the name recognition of the candidate.

But at the same time, many PACs have been plagued with accusations of blowing donor funds on fat salaries for the founders while doing very little in terms of actual grassroots activism. This has included Tea Party groups as well as liberal activist groups. Donors always need to do their own homework and find out how well the funds are being managed.

But what if they raise all this money and do all the work and Carson decides not to run? Will the energy be diverted to another candidate, let’s say… Ted Cruz? Probably not.

I don’t think we would support [Texas Sen. Ted] Cruz because I don’t think he can win.

I don’t think we would support Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney, because they’re just too close to the center and it’s more of the same…

I like what Ted Cruz says about the issues, but I think he’s a bull in a china shop. He’s too polarizing. The media will absolutely fry him every time he opens his mouth—not that they won’t go after Carson—but Carson is not loud. He’s not forceful. Ted Cruz will go on for hours about a given subject jumping up and down—again, I like his positions—I just don’t think his methods can get him elected.

Personally, I think Carson is serious, but at the same time realistically cautious. If it looks like there’s any daylight available for him to seize the nomination, I have no doubt that he’ll get in there and give it his best shot. But if the prospects look hopeless, he strikes me as somebody who is grounded enough to just move on and not sink that much of his life into a lost cause. He’s got a lot of work to do in terms of getting his message discipline down and avoiding self-inflicted wounds, but his obvious credentials as a genuine outsider will buy him a lot of forgiveness for that from the base.