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Edwin Sandham, a 94-year-old Florida man with a full-time caretaker, has donated nearly $45,000 in small increments to more than a dozen groups connected to Diener, the Minutemen or a D.C. firm called Base Connect, the target of repeated solicitations from seemingly unrelated groups after finding himself on such a list.

Donors to Goodwin groups also gave to a multitude of equally inefficient groups connected with direct-mail firm Base Connect. The Times reported last month that another outside group run by former Base Connect officials called Americans for Herman Cain was sending solicitations that looked much like official Cain campaign materials.

The pattern indicates the presence of valuable “sucker lists” containing broad swaths of tea party donors, many of whom eschew the party establishment and are new to politics, who will respond to generic attacks on liberals without careful scrutiny of where their money is going. Those lists then are rented at great expense.

A business model

Once a donor gives to a political committee, there are no requirements on how much must make its way to politicians, and there is no one to determine what market value is for services rendered.

In explaining payments to Mr. Benninghoff, a college friend, Mr. Goodwin said maintenance of a couple of bare-bones PAC websites was Mr. Benninghoff’s full-time job for a time.

In addition to being found guilty of three federal felony charges involving finances, Mr. Benninghoff relinquished his license to practice law after he was disciplined for dishonesty several times, including for sending mailings asking prisoners for hefty fees.

“The solicitation, which was not identified as an advertisement, said Benninghoff could help prisoners apply for a transfer to a Mexican prison. It also implied he had a relationship with government officials in both Mexico and the U.S. which could help the prisoners,” bar officials wrote.

Afterward, the lack of a license didn’t stop him from practicing law, marketing himself through mail and online.

“No longer an active member of the State Bar, Benninghoff plied his trade outside the court system. He represented professional licensees in state administrative hearings and federal prisoners in prison-transfer applications. He sent direct-mail solicitations and operated websites advertising his services as a ‘professional advocate,’” a judge wrote.

On how the Cain group will operate, Mr. Benninghoff said, “the record speaks for itself.”

Own the strategy

Draft Herman Cain is not a “super-PAC,” or conduit for unlimited donations; it is subject to the same contribution caps as the official campaign. So why should donors give $75, which Mr. Goodwin said is the average donation, to the organization rather than directly to the campaign? Mr. Goodwin said his group could use funds more effectively, in this case by targeting advertisements to populous Florida.

“Everyone says his campaign needs organization and money, and that’s true. … They keep saying they’re running an unconventional campaign, and I think that’s self-evident,” he said.

“I believe the campaign is perfectly capable of handling primaries in places like Iowa and New Hampshire,” but Florida, with multiple media markets, is more difficult and will require $5 million in ads, Mr. Goodwin said.

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