Ben Carson and the Conservative Grift Machine

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In the LA Times today Joseph Tanfani and Maloy Moore have a great piece about the American Legacy PAC and its 2014 Save Our Healthcare campaign. It was fronted by Ben Carson, who starred in a video denouncing Obamacare and told viewers, “If you want to hold Washington accountable and truly save American health care, join me and sign our petition today.” Needless to say, when you called the toll-free number, it turned out that Carson wanted more than just your John Hancock. He also wanted your Benjamins:

When Juanita McMillon saw his name, she was eager to get out her checkbook. “I think he is sincere, and I think he is honest, and I think he is exactly what we need,” said McMillon, 80, from the small town of De Kalb in northeast Texas. She gave $350….American Legacy raised close to $6 million in 2014 — and spent nearly all of it paying the consultants and firms that raised the money. Just 2% was donated to Republican candidates and committees, financial reports show.

“I’m really careful who I give money to, but I guess I did not read it close enough,” McMillon said, adding that she had never heard of American Legacy. “I prefer to give money to individuals, and I assumed, I guess, that Dr. Carson was getting my money.”

Though American Legacy didn’t raise much money for Obamacare-hating Republicans, it was a success at something else — finding people willing to give to Carson….When Carson entered the race, the campaign tapped those donors again. Donnell gave another $250 to the campaign, and McMillon another $450. Of the more than 4,000 donors to American Legacy, more than 25% also ended up giving to the Carson campaign, a Los Angeles Times analysis showed.

This is good reporting, but so far there’s nothing all that new here. Conservatives have turned grifting into a high art, and Carson is just the flavor of the month. What makes this piece great is the response from Doug Watts, Carson’s campaign spokesman:

Watts defended the American Legacy effort and offered assurance to donors. “I would say to those people, you did give to Dr. Carson,” Watts said. “They participated in the building of a list” of donors for the campaign.

Booyah! By giving money to Carson’s anti-Obamacare campaign, you identified yourself as a soft touch who would give Carson even more money later on. And that’s a big help. Of course, these elderly donors thought they were helping Carson fight Obamacare, because, you know, that’s what Carson actually said. But what’s the difference? Tomayto, tomahto.

Anyway, read the whole thing if you’ve got the stomach for it.

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Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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