Ben Carson Burned a Ton of Cash on Live Music and Private Jets

The conservative rockstar is spending money like one.

Kevin E. Schmidt/Quad-City Times/ZUMA

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Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson’s latest fundraising report with the Federal Election Commission shows that his campaign brought in an impressive $8.5 million over the last three months—four times as much as Mike Huckabee, a politician with comparable appeal among Sean Hannity-watching conservative activists. Yet during that same period—a time in which Carson was sporadically campaigning while giving paid speeches, struggling to retain staff, and not running any television ads—Carson managed to spend a whopping $5.4 million. Much of that money went toward more fundraising, because his campaign depends heavily on third-party direct-mail firms. But, in stark contrast to Carson’s fiscal conservative message, his campaign spent big money on private jets, luxury hotels, and slickly produced events.

Carson’s campaign kickoff, for instance, came with a hefty price tag. While other candidates, such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, have taken advantage of cheap outdoor public spaces and free media, Carson dropped $25,448 to rent the Detroit Music Hall. The campaign also spent $64,521 on “musical entertainment” over the last quarter, much of it on the kickoff event. That included $20,000 paid to Alexi von Guggenberg, the producer of the song that plays in the background of this Carson campaign video, which has less than 30,000 views on YouTube; $15,500 to the Selected of God choir, which performed at his Detroit event; $10,271 to the contemporary classical vocal group Veritas, which also performed a few songs at his kickoff; and $18,750 to producer Kevin Cates.

The Carson team has also spent big money on luxury travel and accommodations, an area where campaigns often emphasize frugality. (Hillary Clinton staffers are commuting from DC to New York City exclusively by bus.*) His campaign spent $60,035 on private plane rentals from Addison, Texas-based Starbase Jets. And it spared little expense on lodging. Carson and/or his staff checked in at the Luxe Sunset Hotel in Bel Air at a cost of $827; the Algonquin in New York City ($814); the Rosewood Crescent in Dallas ($704); and the five-star Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, North Carolina ($405).

Carson, who led one national poll last month, promised to run an unconventional campaign. His first big FEC report backs him up on that.

*Update: According to Clinton’s own filings, her campaign did spend $8,700 on Amtrak tickets last quarter.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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