Shortly after Vivek Ramaswamy, the biotech entrepreneur and anti-woke crusader, announced he was seeking the Republican nomination for president, a political consultant with ties to the Conservative Political Action Conference called his campaign asking if he planned to attend.
If so, the consultant had an offer, a Ramaswamy aide recalled.
“Basically, they were like, if you pay I think it was upward of $100,000, we can get tickets and bus a bunch of people in for the straw poll,” a senior campaign official for Ramaswamy described on the condition of anonymity to share details about the call. “I was taken aback, because I’ve never been to CPAC before, and it’s very activist driven but I think if any of them knew it was an artificial poll, they’d be pretty pissed about that.”
The Ramaswamy campaign declined the offer, so they did not get any more details about where the money would go or how exactly the arrangement would work. The anecdote was shared on condition that the name of the consultant not be revealed for fear of retribution. But POLITICO confirmed that the person who made the alleged offer does indeed have ties to the conference.
“A straw poll is a vote that those in attendance get to participate in. If a presidential contender is organized and popular, they can do well,” a spokesperson for CPAC said in response to POLITICO.
After publication, a CPAC spokesperson expanded and said, “Washington DC is riddled with unscrupulous consultants who make false claims including this one. CPAC attendance was so strong that we had to close ticket sales on Friday due to concerns over capacity. And anybody with a rudimentary understanding of politics knows how a straw poll work: it takes organization and/or popularity for a candidate to do well. One thing is enduringly true about presidential politics, it takes both to get to the Oval Office.”
In the past, candidates have organized for their own supporters to come to CPAC to boost their standing in the straw poll or cheer their candidate on stage. But the Ramaswamy campaign’s allegation is fundamentally different: that someone with ties to the conference offered to arrange those supporters for a fee.
It comes as there have been questions about CPAC’s influence in the broader conservative universe. The leader of the conference, Matt Schlapp, is currently being sued by a campaign staffer alleging sexual misconduct, allegations which Schlapp has denied. And it suggests that the biotech entrepreneur is designing his outsider campaign for president as a disruptive force within traditional GOP circles.
Ramaswamy first mentioned his campaign was contacted about the straw poll on Fox News Business. In an interview with POLITICO, he expanded on it, saying he decided to speak out about the call as part of his campaign’s effort to shine a light on corruption and exposing the sometimes unsavory behind the scenes deal making that is part of modern politics.
“The premise of the campaign is to drive a national identity revival, but a definite secondary goal is going to be exposing – I mean I’m not someone who has grown up in politics but everything I’ve learned suggests that there is a lot that people need to see in the open,” said Ramaswamy.
“We’ve decided to go ‘full transparency’ on exposing the quasi-corrupt process of the campaign itself,” he said.
Ramaswamy spoke at CPAC last week and received 1 percent support in the straw poll of potential 2024 Republican primary contenders. Former president Donald Trump came in first with 62 percent, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis came in at 20 percent. Perry Johnson, the millionaire from Michigan who announced his candidacy last week, and whose team had a presence at the event, earned 5 percent.
During his speech at CPAC on Friday, Ramaswamy called for a “national revival,” said he would shut down the FBI and the Department of Education, and vowed to end federally mandated affirmative action by repealing Executive Order 11246, which mandates race-based quotas for federal contractors.
“Do we want a national divorce? Or do we want a national revival? It’s not going to happen automatically, whatever it is — it is going to be what we choose it to be,” Ramaswamy asked the audience, referencing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s calls for a “national divorce.”
Following CPAC, Ramaswamy attended the anti-tax group Club for Growth’s donor event in Palm Beach, Fla. This weekend, Ramaswamy will be attending the Hamilton Co. Republican Party Pancake Breakfast in Cincinnati, Ohio, and will be making upcoming stops in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Ramaswamy said his campaign is thinking about doing things differently when it comes to fundraising and even showing how candidates are prepped for interviews or events with expert briefings. He plans to launch a podcast in the coming weeks where the public can listen in on his briefing on topics ranging from foreign policy to health care.
“I am increasingly intrigued by the process,” Ramaswamy said of running for office. “The Republican base likes my message about fixing government management but you need to fix it in your own backyard if you’re going to preach about it.”