Vernon Robinson Digging for Ben Carson Gold

Folks who have been paying attention to politics in North Carolina, and Winston-Salem in particular, for any amount of time will instantly recognize the name Vernon Robinson. He’s a conservative gadfly who labeled himself the “black Jesse Helms” and ran some of the most vitriolic campaigns these parts have ever seen. While he’s never won a major office – he did at one point when a seat on Winston-Salem’s city council, but that’s A-League ball in the world of politics – he has been a heckuva fundraiser and he’s put those skills to work as he toils to draft Ben Carson to run for POTUS. Mother Jones has the story:

Dr. Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon, author, tea party hero, and Stuck On You star, is contemplating a presidential bid in 2016. He’s being cheered on by conservative activists—and by the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee, a super PAC founded in 2013 to urge Carson to run. The PAC sends out emails touting Carson, gathers signatures for petitions aimed at coaxing him into the race, and it raises money from conservatives enthralled with the prospect of a Carson presidency. A lot of money. According to Federal Election Commission filings, the Draft Carson PAC has raised an impressive $12.2 million since its founding—slightly more than Ready for Hillary, the pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC. Draft Carson has, in fact, done very little besides fundraise…

The guy responsible for collecting and managing Draft Carson’s huge haul is Vernon Robinson, the PAC’s political director and a notorious, perennial candidate with a history of rabid anti-immigrant rhetoric. An African-American, ex-Air Force officer from North Carolina, Robinson has repeatedly run unsuccessful campaigns for Congress. He calls himself “the black Jesse Helms”—a comparison the director of the late senator’s foundation declared “sad.” His congressional campaign ads—one of which characterized undocumented immigrants as flag-burners and sex offenders—are so out-there that political science professors use them to illustrate mudslinging at its dirtiest. In 2006, a Republican running against Robinson in a House primary said that he “scares me.” But win or (almost always) lose, the common thread in his political career has been remarkable fundraising success, with a big chunk of the proceeds Robinson has raised flowing to a small camp of conservative fundraisers, and sometimes, himself…

Robinson, meanwhile, has quietly turned his quixotic Draft Ben Carson effort into a lucrative enterprise for himself. FEC filings show that the PAC paid out over $250,000 to a consulting firm called Tzu Mahan. Buzzfeed reported in November that Tzu Mahan—its name a mashup of ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu and 19th century Navy admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan—is a one-man company, run by Robinson. Robinson’s reaction, when asked about his high salary, was candid: “People get paid to do politics,” he said.

Ten years ago on this blog I made a standing offer to any local elected leader to help them learn how to use this revolutionary new medium called blogging to communicate directly with their constituents. The only person who took me up on it was indeed Vernon Robinson. We met for coffee at the Starbucks on Hanes Mall Boulevard, and had an interesting meeting. I ended up helping him set up a blog on my blogging platform, but he really didn’t do anything with it. Ten years later what I remember most about the meeting were two things: First, that he tried to pay for his coffee with a gold coin that was alternative currency to the US dollar and the manager had to inform him he wouldn’t allow it to happen in the future, and second that he seemed far less vitriolic and more politically pragmatic in a one-on-one conversation than he was when talking to the press or campaigning.

So here’s my advice if you’re considering sending some dollars to the Draft Ben Carson campaign: caveat emptor. Heck, that’s my advice for sending money to any political campaign.

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