Ben Carson is surging in raising (and spending!) campaign cash

You probably couldn’t tell from the coverage he’s been getting on CNN, but Ben Carson has actually had a pretty good month. He’s still a solid number two in the polls, he’s ticking off all the right people with some of his comments, and perhaps most importantly he’s turned in some very solid fundraising numbers. He hauled in more than $20M in the last quarter and has a significant chunk of it in his coffers. But as NBC News reports, he might have had even more because he’s been spending at a quick pace too.

The $20.7 million Carson raised this quarter is all the more notable because it came largely from small-dollar donors, with the average contribution of just $30. But the campaign spent nearly 70 percent of that, over $14.2 million, the majority of that — $11.2 million — going towards fundraising costs.

A breakdown in spending provided by the campaign shows Carson’s campaign spent over $2.6 million on “direct mail prospecting” alone, a highly lucrative but expensive form of fundraising.

The reporting on this is a bit misleading because Carson has a lot more going on than his current book tour might lead you to believe. First of all, his publisher is paying for the tour, but he gets to spend some of his “down time” at each stop doing campaign events. Nothing illegal about that and it works for him on two levels: he saves campaign expenses on travel and still gets to boost his book sales. But in the background his campaign team is getting their ground game in gear. He’s not just organizing in all fifty states, but also the less visited territories such as Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands. I think his supporters are seeing that he’s serious and has the ability to get the drudge work done which is required to round up delegates.

His other big expense noted in the article is the high cost of fundraising itself. Carson is doing a lot of direct mailers which cost a fortune compared to on line fundraising, phone banks and related avenues. That’s added up to enough of a cost that he’s only banking about 53 cents of every dollar he raises. That tends to drive some supporters (and donors) crazy, but if you can afford to do it the payoff in the end can be big. Using this method, Carson is accumulating a database of millions of smaller donors. This gives him a pipeline straight back to proven backers later in the campaign where he can go back for a second dip in the well and get a very high rate of return. Plus, he has all of the donor info to use when it comes time to mobilize the ground troops and get volunteers out in the streets.

Despite all the criticism he’s getting in the media, Carson seems to be running a much better organized campaign than you’d expect from a political neophyte. This isn’t to say that he’s a shoe-in for the nomination, but I wouldn’t be counting him out yet.