Ben Carson may be about to suspend his presidential campaign, but his massive donor list lives on — and is potentially worth millions.
While the retired surgeon didn’t win many delegates, his campaign did convince more than 700,000 people to give money, and now has a lucrative opportunity to rent the donors’ names and contact information to other candidates, political committees or for-profit data brokers again and again.
As the Center for Public Integrity recently reported, many of the donors had never given money to a political candidate before. That makes them less likely to be on other political lists already in circulation, and makes the Carson list an even more valuable commodity to the Republican Party and to others who want to make money.
The market value for a typical Carson donor’s personal information would be about $5 to $6 per donor name, said Walter Lukens, head of direct response marketing firm the Lukens Company.
Lukens has worked for a long list of political clients, including the Republican National Committee and presidential candidates such as U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
The price goes up if Carson is himself willing to sign solicitations for other political committees that rent his supporter database, Lukens said.
If history is a guide, some of the primary beneficiaries of renting Carson’s list would likely be his own campaign consultants and political operatives, who typically oversee marketing such lists and administering what remains of the campaign apparatus.
Lukens conservatively estimated Carson’s campaign committee could earn $4 million or so over three years of renting its supporters’ information.
“As long as he continues to be a viable spokesman for a particular perspective around politics, an agenda, then he can make money on that forever and ever and ever,” Lukens said of the list.
Some Carson donors are unaware their information could be marketed to others, and when they find that’s the case, they’re not pleased.
“I would be really, really surprised if Dr. Carson did that,” said Travis Creed, 76, a donor from Pine Bluff, Arkansas. “I would be very disappointed if someone else called me, especially if they told me they bought a list with my name on it. There’s too much of that kind of thing going on in this country already.”
Larry Ross, a spokesman for the Carson campaign, said earlier this week the campaign would not answer detailed questions about how donor information would be used.
“As Dr. Carson is still running for President of the United States, and intends to stay in the race as long as he continues to receive revenue and support of 'We the People,’ the campaign does not answer hypothetical questions, including use of mailing lists,” he said in an email Monday to the Center for Public Integrity.
On Wednesday, Carson released a statement saying, “I do not see a political path forward in light of last evening’s Super Tuesday primary results.” He did not explicitly say he would suspend his campaign, but indicated he would not attend Thursday’s Republican debate.
“However, this grassroots movement on behalf of ‘We the People’ will continue,” Carson said in the statement, promising that he would address “the future of this movement” in a speech Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington, D.C.
Some defunct political campaigns operate like small corporations designed to sell an asset — like donor lists.
During the 2010 election cycle, for example, Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign committee reported more than $3.1 million in list rental income.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential campaign, which still owes about $1.1 million to various vendors, is charging $10,500 to send one email to its list of 675,000 supporters, according to Politico.
Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign committee still functions in zombie state, and reported raking in nearly $1.4 million in list rental income in 2015.
Romney’s list, the most recent national list assembled by a Republican presidential nominee, has been rented by a variety of political and special interests: the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a nonprofit that promotes gay and lesbian rights, and even Carson’s campaign.
The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.