Looking to cash in on Dr. Ben Carson’s ballooning popularity among conservatives, some independent groups are soliciting his growing fan base for money — all without the doctor’s permission.
The efforts have landed the famed neurosurgeon in the awkward position of attending events where he is the guest speaker and surrounded by people at the head table who have donated thousands of dollars to groups that have no ties to him and were led to believe he is laying the groundwork for a 2016 presidential run.
“I have not endorsed any of these organizations and have neither any professional nor personal relationships and am not in communication with any of them,” Dr. Carson said in a statement obtained by The Washington Times. “I have not authorized any solicitation of funds in my name or likeness.”
Dr. Carson also disavowed any plans “as of today” for a political career, despite pleas from groups such as the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee, whose leadership intends to keep pressing him to run for president.
The group recently blasted out an email inviting people to enter a contest to win an all-expenses-paid trip — worth an estimated $1,750 — to fly to Arizona to have dinner with Dr. Carson “along with a guest of your choice” at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix on Jan. 28.
“This is a rare once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have dinner with a future President,” says the email, which includes the electronic signature of John Philip Sousa IV, who is named as the group’s national chairman. The email also directs readers to a website that includes an entry form for the contest as well as the chance to donate anywhere from $7 to $1,000 or more to the group.
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The problem? Dr. Carson has no connection to the draft committee, which spent $25,000 for the nine seats at the head table at the Arizona event and is giving two of them away in the online contest.
Armstrong Williams, the columnist and Dr. Carson’s business associate, said that these sorts of groups also sell seats to deep-pocketed donors who want him to take a stab at the White House in 2016.
“They sell each seat for God knows how much,” Mr. Williams said. “Dr. Carson appreciates the fact that people do want him to run for president, but that is not in his makeup right now.
“Obviously, this is a huge business and people are very vulnerable,” Mr. Williams told The Washington Times. “They are supporting someone else’s agenda and lining their pockets.”
Vernon Robinson, national director of the draft Carson committee, told The Times that Dr. Carson has kept the door open to a presidential run and said his group will continue to try to convince him to run and help build a ground operation in key states because he is the one person who can save the country.
“We have not been shy,” Mr. Robinson said. “We don’t work for Dr. Carson. We work for the Constitution and the republic, and the reason the committee was created is because we think the country cannot survive eight years of Hillary Clinton.”
Mr. Robinson said Dr. Carson represents the best shot of beating Mrs. Clinton, who is thought to be the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.
He also said he understands why Dr. Carson would rather play golf, travel the world and learn foreign languages than run for president.
“Unfortunately, for the good doctor and fortunately for the country greatness sought” former Presidents George Washington and Ronald Reagan, he said. “They didn’t seek greatness, and so it is with Dr. Carson. He may be reluctant to run now, and we will continue to send him the clamoring of Americans citizens.”
In his statement, Dr. Carson said “I maintain that as of today it is not my intention to seek public office.”
“Instead, I will continue to strive very hard to not only expose what is happening in our nation, but also to suggest ways to regain a direction that will lead our nation towards freedom and justice for all,” he said. “If God has other plans for me moving forward, I am certain he will make those clear and I will always listen.”
Asked about the draft group earlier this year during an appearance on Fox News, Dr. Carson told host Greta Van Susteren, “I am not going to interfere one way or another, as I’ve said before.”
Dr. Carson is not the first person to be targeted by such unauthorized fundraising drives.
In the run-up to the 2012 election, Politico reported that a new cottage industry of fake super PACs were using high-profile figures, like former Florida Rep. Allen B. West, to raise money for themselves and expand their email lists.