Ben Carson is raising a ton of money. He hauled in an impressive $20.8 million in the third quarter, shocking the political world and topping the Republican field in fundraising. That comes after a strong second quarter, when he raised more than $10 million.
But Carson is also spending a ton of money—he spent nearly seven out of every $10 he raised in the quarter. What is that money being used to do, and is that rate of spending sustainable?
One of the most important metrics in fundraising numbers is the burn rate—the proportion between the cash that campaigns are raking in, and the amount they spent in the same time period. Carson’s burn rate is 69 percent. That’s generally considered high, though it’s hardly the highest total in the field: Hillary Clinton’s campaign had a whopping 86 percent burn rate. As logic holds, it’s generally preferable to have a lower burn rate now and save for later in the campaign. But a lot of that depends on how the money is spent: Is it building a long-term organization that will provide for the campaign going ahead? If so, spending now isn’t an all-bad thing.
In Carson’s case, a majority of what he’s raising is being plowed right back into fundraising costs—$11.2 million of the nearly $20.8 million. That means 54 cents out of every dollar Carson raises is going to raise more money. Carson’s campaign only spent roughly $3 million on everything else—merchandise, office supplies, field staff, space, travel, and so on. Compare that to Clinton, whose biggest expenses included media buys, payroll, and online advertising, spending that’s designed to build a real campaign infrastructure and future strategy. She’s also spending significantly more on rent. (A headquarters in downtown Brooklyn doesn’t come cheap.)