Super-PAC promoting Carson for VP shuts down after torrent of criticism

Getty Images

The leader of the main super-PAC supporting Ben Carson has declared the group "dormant" after questions were raised about its continued fundraising off of Carson's name.

"The 2016 Committee is, effective Friday, dormant," the super-PAC's head, John Philip Sousa IV, told The Hill on Monday. 

Sousa said he "can't go over" the reasons for why he shut down the super-PAC at the end of last week, but the pro-Carson group had been under fire for continuing to raise money despite Carson no longer being a candidate for president.

After spending more than $10 million in a failed bid to make Carson the Republican presidential nominee, Sousa's group announced two weeks ago that it was transforming into a big-money vehicle designed to promote him for vice president.

Prominent conservatives denounced the move, calling it a "scam PAC" run by "grifters." Carson decried the fundraising in a Facebook post without mentioning the super-PAC by name.

I was rather surprised that some are raising money using my name regarding a vice presidential bid. I also know that...

Posted by Dr. Ben Carson on Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"I was rather surprised that some are raising money using my name regarding a vice presidential bid," Carson wrote on his Facebook page last Wednesday. "I do not believe that it is appropriate at this time to be using any notoriety that I have gained to try to get people to donate to a political effort on my behalf."

In an interview with The Hill, Sousa lashed out at critics who have described his PAC as a vehicle to enrich the Republican consultant class at the expense of retirees. 

Sousa also denied that he benefitted financially from the PAC's decision to spend at least $277,000 printing pro-Carson books that he wrote.

"These morons need to get off of their lazy asses and call me," Sousa told The Hill of his critics.

"I never got a dime of royalties. ..." he said. "We printed 1.4 million copies of the book; we distributed over 1.2 million copies ... and I never put one red cent in my pocket from those books." 

Sousa, who describes himself as a business development expert in financial services, conceded that much of the super-PAC's fundraising was pumped back into the expensive process of raising money via direct mail.  

But he responded angrily to suggestions that the super-PAC has been a cash machine for GOP consultants.

"People got paid a reasonable compensation for what they did," Sousa said, adding that he personally made "a couple of hundred thousand dollars" in two-and-a-half years operating the super-PAC.

An especially tough critique of Sousa's efforts ran last week in The Daily Caller, under the headline, “Sketchy Pro-Carson Super PAC Still Pressing Retirees For Donations.”

Critics have noted that the pro-Carson super-PAC, instead of collecting large checks from millionaires and billionaires, has been harvesting small-dollar checks from retirees via an expensive direct mail plan. 

Responding to these criticisms, Sousa said, "If [our fundraising mail] went to senior citizens who wanted to send us $10, we don't know whether they're living in a multimillion-dollar home or whether they're living in the home they grew up in. 

"We have no way of knowing those things. And to accuse us of doing this off the backs of poor, retired, elderly folks is just absolute nonsense," he added.

"These are Americans who give a damn about their country, who want to make a contribution to try to improve their country."

Sousa takes credit for building Carson's initial fundraising lists and for the doctor's brief rise to the top of the Republican polls late last year.

"In 2013 we started the draft movement for Dr. Ben Carson. And let me ask you where he was in the polls in October of 2015. He was No. 1," Sousa said. 

"How do you think he got there? It was because of all the money we raised and all the money we spent to make the American people aware of who and what Dr. Carson is."

Sousa says his super-PAC only raised "thousands" in the 10 days or so that it was operating as a fundraising machine to promote Carson for VP. 

Asked what he would do with the Draft VP money, Sousa said much of the cash had already been used for expenses such as printing Trump-Carson bumper stickers and signs.  

"We will now recycle the paper."

Sousa said he was not offended by Carson's denunciation of his fundraising. 

"It's his life; he needs to be comfortable with what's happening," Sousa said. 

"If he lets us know tomorrow he'd like us to do something, I'll turn the machinery back on and our ... 200,000 donors will be turned on in a New York minute."