WASHINGTON — The massive grassroots support enjoyed by Dr. Ben Carson has translated into dollar signs for groups operating in the obscure corners of the conservative fundraising world.
But one of these groups, Black America’s Political Action Committee (BAMPAC), stands out from the rest. That’s because it’s run by Alvin Williams, the brother of one of the people closest to Carson: his business manager Armstrong Williams.
BAMPAC was founded in the 1990s by former Republican presidential candidate and diplomat Alan Keyes, and over the years has endorsed other candidates as well. This election cycle, it is encouraging potential donors to help “Push Dr. Ben Carson to victory in the Republican Presidential Primary.” But a glance through the PAC’s Federal Election Commission reports shows that the group hasn’t spent money this year supporting Carson, but instead in paying Alvin Williams a salary and on fundraising.
Williams was paid $4,700 a month this year up until June, FEC records show. In the 2014 cycle, Williams made $95,700, according to records.
“I don’t know anything about the PAC,” said Armstrong Williams when reached by BuzzFeed News. His brother is “very private about it,” he said, and they don’t discuss work matters.
Armstrong Williams said neither he nor Carson was aware that Carson’s name was being used in a fundraising appeal for BAMPAC. “We don’t know when his name is invoked” in fundraising appeals, he said. “We don’t even know. That’s not something that they would even tell us about, but that’s not something we would even be involved in.”
“I find this funny because this is the first time somebody’s asked me about my brother,” Armstrong Williams said.
BAMPAC appears to have been most active in the 2000, 2002, and 2004 cycles, and has significantly scaled down its operations in recent years. But the PAC is still accepting donations and the blog on its website was updated as recently as Oct. 26.
A review of federal election records shows that BAMPAC has poured a significant portion of the money it raises back into fundraising costs like renting email lists and direct mail operations. Though the PAC typically spends nearly everything it takes in, it has historically spent much less on expenditures to and in support of candidates than on overhead and fundraising costs.
Take the 2014 midterm election cycle: BAMPAC spent $16,250 on federal candidate contributions, $9,750 on state and local candidate contributions, and $1,400 on independent expenditures — a relatively small slice of the total $349,118 spent that cycle, and much less than the $95,700 Williams took in salary.
As Alvin Williams pointed out, BAMPAC has in the past paid for independent expenditures on behalf of candidates like Allen West and Mia Love. In 2012, records show BAMPAC spent $84,625 on radio ads, for example, as well as spending $77,250 on candidate committees. Still, that’s not much out of the $1,047,230 overall the PAC spent in disbursements during that cycle.
And so far in the 2016 cycle, the PAC has made only two contributions to candidates: $500 to West Virginia congressman Rep. Alex Mooney and $500 to Maryland governor Larry Hogan. Although the PAC’s reported raising $74,458 so far this cycle, it’s already spent $72,993, per FEC records.
Reached by email, Williams acknowledged that BAMPAC has spent most of its money on fundraising. “Fundraising expenses and existing direct mail debt are the two biggest reasons, particularly particular the renting of email/direct mail lists,” he said. “In 2012 for instance, we launched an online program and started totally from scratch in building a house file which continues because email addresses change so frequently. Moreover, we had approximately $250,000 in direct mail debt which we covered during this time period. Recently, we decided to resume our direct mail program which also means it will cost more to mail but hopefully we’ll more than break even and share the netted proceeds with the candidates we are targeting. “
Williams said the PAC’s activities were slow in an off election year and that it is gearing up for 2016.
“In 2015, as in other off-election years throughout our history, we are focusing our efforts on researching potential candidates who support BAMPAC’s mission on the federal, state and local levels, who we will consider supporting next year,” Williams said in an email. “We do continue our fundraising cycle to generate funds to support these efforts. Our fundraising has been anemic this year which is typical in off election years.”
“Even with reduced fundraising results, we have and will continue to support elected officials and candidates this year who share our approach to key issues as we have done since our inception in 1994,” Williams said. He cited South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Love as examples of candidates the group has supported.
According to a former employee who spoke on condition of anonymity, the PAC had never been more than Alvin Williams and one or two other employees. The former employee described being given large amounts of money — $1,000 or more — for routine tasks taking under an hour of work.
This isn’t the first time the PAC’s spending habits have come under scrutiny; BAMPAC figured prominently in a Center for Public Integrity story on “political inaction committees” in 2010. Williams told the Center that he had stopped taking a salary in 2009, but records show he has continued taking a salary through June 2015.
Now that the Carson candidacy is taking off, Williams says he sees an unusually high level of interest that will spur the PAC to action, though the PAC hasn’t spent anything in support of Carson thus far.
“In regards to your question referencing support of the Ben Carson Presidential Campaign, BAMPAC’s approach historically has been to defer providing support or making endorsements of Presidential candidates until the General Election (if at all),” Williams said in an email. “In the case of Dr. Carson, we have seen an unprecedented level of interest and excitement among our donor base for his candidacy and as such we have decided to act on their behalf.”