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Draft Ben Carson Group Complicates Potential Presidential Campaign

Carson is considering a run for president. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Ben Carson is openly considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, but an unaffiliated Super PAC trying to draft him into the race is making the effort complicated.  

Last month, Buzzfeed detailed the fundraising and spending habits of the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee (RunBenRun.org ). While the group has received attention for raising millions of dollars, those funds are just churned back into the operation , with significant financial benefit for two of its organizers. And the group’s campaign director, Vernon Robinson, has a reputation in North Carolina for being one of the most aggressive and negative campaigners around.  

For example, when the Draft Carson group was denied a presence at the state Republican Party’s booth at the state fair in Raleigh at the end of October, Robinson threatened to show up to the event with 10,000 “dead white elephant” stickers, 1,000 T-shirts and 2,000 supporters.  

“19 days out I'm sure the media will be interested in a dead white elephant story and why the Ben Carson vols were banned from the GOP state booth ...in the interest of unity,” wrote Robinson in an email obtained by The Rothenberg Political Report and CQ Roll Call. Even in the face of the threats, the group wasn’t given a position at the booth because Carson was still registered to vote as an independent. (He registered as a Republican at the beginning of November.) At the fair, there was no sign of Robinson, the stickers, or the T-shirts at the event, according to knowledgeable sources. The incident is actually very mild compared to Robinson’s reputation on the campaign trail, including three unsuccessful runs for congress in 2004, 2006, and 2012.  

So what connection does Carson have with the Draft Carson committee and its colorful consultants? “Absolutely no relation,” said Armstrong Williams, a nationally syndicated columnist and long-time business manager for Carson, in a recent interview.  

“We’ve never met with him,” Williams said about Robinson, “When he showed up at a function to take a picture with Dr. Carson, I blocked it.”  

Williams explained that the draft committee was a decidedly “mixed bag.” While it has helped generate some media buzz and grassroots support, Carson’s fans or potential supporters may not know that the groups are not connected.  

“People are using their hard-earned money,” Williams said. “People giving money think it’s going to Dr. Carson and it’s not.”  

“I don’t like misleading people. We are about integrity and transparency.”  

USAFirstPAC , which was organized in August, is the only authorized presidential committee for Carson. The pediatric neurosurgeon is also chairman of American Legacy PAC's "Save our Healthcare Project," which started nearly a year ago in order to oppose President Barack Obama’s health care plan and support candidates across the country who oppose the Affordable Care Act.  

“Most people are innocent and well-intentioned but don’t ask the right questions,” Williams said about potential donors. “Ask [Draft Carson organizers] if the money goes to Dr. Carson and they say no.” Indeed, that answer is buried on the group’s website .  

“Our hands are tied,” Williams continued, “We don’t want people exploited.”  

So is Carson running for president in 2016 or not?  

On Sunday, he appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press as an analyst to talk about race issues in the wake of Ferguson. “I should quickly ask, are you running for president?” said moderator Chuck Todd.  

Carson responded, “I should quickly tell you, maybe.”  

Correction 10:57 a.m. An earlier version of this post misstated Ben Carson's title with American Legacy PAC.  

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