Small donors dominate Ben Carson, Donald Trump contributor lists

Ben Carson has raised 62.7 percent of his $31.3 million from small donors; Donald Trump has raised 72 percent of his $3.9 million from people giving $200 or less.
Ben Carson has raised 62.7 percent of his $31.3 million from small donors; Donald Trump has raised 72 percent of his $3.9 million from people giving $200 or less.

Small checks can add up to big bucks.

The two poll-topping candidates who’ll occupy center stage in  Wednesday night’s third Republican presidential debate — part-time Palm Beacher Donald Trump and West Palm Beach resident Ben Carson — are also the candidates who have raised the largest share of their campaign cash from small donors.

Retired neurosurgeon Carson raised $31.3 million through Sept. 30 — with $19.6 million, or 63 percent, coming from people giving $200 or less.

Trump, despite his billionaire status and pledge to self-finance his campaign, has attracted $3.9 million in contributions, with $2.8 million of that — 72 percent — coming from people who gave $200 or less.

The contributions to Trump have been entirely unsolicited, his campaign says. First-time candidate Carson, however, has spent heavily on donor lists, direct mail appeals and phone solicitations to build his contributor base.

Of the $24.8 million Jeb Bush's campaign has raised, 5 percent has come from small donors.
Of the $24.8 million Jeb Bush’s campaign has raised, 5 percent has come from small donors.

By comparison, only 5 percent of the $24.8 million raised by Republican establishment favorite Jeb Bush has come from small contributors. And less than 1 percent of the $103 million raised by the Bush-backing Right To Rise super PAC through June 30 came from people who gave $200 or less.

The Federal Election Commission requires campaigns to list the name, address and occupation of people who give more than $200, whether it’s in a single check or multiple contributions. Money from people giving $200 or less can be lumped together as “unitemized” gifts on FEC reports.

Raising money in little pieces rather than fat checks can give populist credibility to a campaign. It also gives a candidate a list of supporters who can be hit up for more money before reaching the federal individual contribution limit of $2,700 for a primary and $2,700 for a general election.

Bernie Sanders has raised more than $30 million from people giving $200 or less.
Bernie Sanders has raised more than $30 million from people giving $200 or less.

Democrat Bernie Sanders has been the most prolific small-dollar candidate, raising $30.7 million — more than three-quarters of his contributions — in unitemized donations. Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton has raised $13.3 million from small donors, or 17 percent of her campaign’s $77 million haul. The pro-Clinton Priorities USA super PAC raised $15.7 million through June 30, with only $1,092 in unitemized gifts.

Small dollars aren’t necessarily cheap. Carson’s campaign incurred $11.2 million in fundraising costs last quarter to bring in $20.7 million – a burn rate that has raised some eyebrows.

“The fundraising is reflective of the campaign. The campaign is really a campaign of the people,” says Carson’s national finance chairman, Dean Parker, a former tech company CEO who has never worked on a political campaign before.

Parker said Carson had to spend heavily to raise money because he’s not a politician.

“We didn’t have a donor list when we started. We had to go and track donors. Every other campaign had donors,” said Parker, who expects Carson’s fundraising costs to go down.

Carson has placed second to Trump in most national GOP polls over the last two months, but he led Trump in a CBS News/New York Times survey released Tuesday. The poll showed Carson favored by 26 percent of Republican primary voters and Trump preferred by 22 percent.

“Carson’s gross (fundraising) numbers are impressive,” said Brian Ballard, a Tallahassee lobbyist who is a fundraiser for Bush. But Ballard also noted Carson’s high cost of attracting contributions. And he said big donors come in handy in the long haul.

“Having the institutional money matters in terms of being able to compete with Democrats,” Ballard said.

Trump, at a rally in Doral last week, mocked Bush’s fundraising.

“Jeb Bush has $125 million – honestly, I don’t think it’s going to help him,” Trump said while arguing that major contributors expect something in return from politicians.

“Hey look, I used to be one of those guys that gave a lot of money,” Trump said.

While decrying super PACs and challenging other candidates to disavow them, Trump boasted about the people giving small contributions to his campaign.

“People send in small donations. Like, small ones. A woman — $7.50 with about a four-page letter. Another woman $50, $30, $90…” Trump said.

“But that I love because, number one, you can’t send it back. How do you send a letter back to a woman who loves the country, who’s giving a lot of money – that’s like giving $1 million to a rich person. How do you send the $7.50 back? You can’t…There’s no letter you can write to that woman to say ‘We don’t want your money.’”

Shock poll: West Palm Beacher Ben Carson edges Palm Beacher Donald Trump

West Palm Beach resident Ben Carson before the first GOP debate in Cleveland in August.
West Palm Beach resident Ben Carson before the first GOP debate in Cleveland in August.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson of West Palm Beach has moved ahead of part-time Palm Beacher Donald Trump in a new CBS News/New York Times national poll of Republican primary voters.

Carson gets 26 percent and Trump 22 percent, with all other candidates in single digits. Sen. Marco Rubio is a distant third at 8 percent. The poll’s margin of error is 6 percent.

Only 28 percent of Republicans say their minds are made up for the presidential race, with 71 percent saying it’s too early to make a final decision on a candidate.

Trump, who made his first Florida campaign appearance Friday in Doral, has led every major national GOP poll for more than three months with the exception of one Investors Business Daily survey released Oct. 2 that showed Carson ahead.

Carson’s home in the Ibis development of West Palm Beach is about 20 miles from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach.