Dean Parker, Dr. Ben Carson’s finance chairman and top fundraiser, resigned from the campaign this morning, just hours after the publication of a Politico article exposing fractures in Carson’s inner circle allegedly caused by Parker’s unusually high salary, expenses and aggressive temperament.
The piece, written by Kyle Cheney, relays the displeasure of “some campaign insiders” regarding the $20,000 per month salary that Parker was hauling in despite occupying a role that goes unpaid in most traditional campaigns. Carson’s campaign also paid a total of $216,000 in expenses during the three months covering July through September of last year, with Cheney writing that much of the money was distributed to LLCs set up in the names of individual consultants working under Parker.
That information answers not just the question of why Parker is no longer working for the Carson campaign, but perhaps also a more fundamental one: Where exactly is Ben Carson’s money going? This question was more pertinent when Carson had more money (and better poll numbers) than he does now, but it nonetheless remains the central mystery of his campaign.
In November, Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall posited that Carson’s campaign might have started off as the sort of direct mail fundraising scheme that is popular in conservative circles, in which vague political organizations raise money from small, vulnerable donors but don’t do anything with the donations they receive except funnel it back into the act of raising more money for the organization.
Details in Cheney’s article seem to back up that thesis. As he notes, a Wall Street Journal piece on the Carson campaign’s financials from December shows that the Carson campaign diverted a good portion of its cash back into its direct mail business. Cheney’s reporting also suggests that the Parker underlings pulling in thousands of dollars from the Carson campaign via specific LLCs don’t really appear to be qualified for their jobs:
In fact, much of the finance operation Parker built in Mobile is difficult to decipher from campaign filings. Nearly everyone on his staff set up a separate LLC after joining the campaign and received consulting payments in the quarter that ended Oct. 1. LLCs like Interim C, DB Operations, and Synergy Networks were established explicitly for the campaign and trace back to individuals who were paid as finance consultants.
Mary Broughton, who lists her occupation as a substitute teacher and graduated from Liberty University in 2014, collected nearly $15,000, through MC Consulting, established in June. Rachel Howat, who was a Mobile County nutritionist until joining the campaign in June as “finance operations director,” collected more than $15,200 throughThe Amna Agency. A further $8,000 flowed in September to Interim C, a Michigan-based LLC whose manager, Kevin Demery, used to work with Parker at Callis Communications. Demery lists his title as the campaign’s national vice chairman of finance.
So Parker was essentially raising money to pay himself and his staff, who would then raise more money to pay themselves. Employees need to get paid, of course, but Cheney quotes several veteran Republican campaign grunts who say that most people in positions like Parker’s don’t take paychecks—their job is to open the flow of money from their own networks of rich people to the candidate, not to tap that flow.
As Parker walks away from the campaign, the final question is whether he resigned on his own—as the campaign announced—or was pushed out. Parker is quoted extensively by Cheney, making it seem unlikely that he had expected the revelations within the article would be so harmful that he would need to resign before noon on the day it went up. Cheney also notes that Parker recently said he would “take a bullet” for Carson. So maybe he did.