A 2024 GOP presidential candidate said a political consultant offered to help him achieve a second-place finish in the closely watched Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll in exchange for a payment of roughly $150,000.
Vivek Ramaswamy, a biotech tycoon who jumped into the presidential race last month, said he declined the offer, which was made to one of his campaign aides.
“I said, ‘No, that seems fake,’” Mr. Ramaswamy told The Washington Times.
Mr. Ramaswamy tied for 5th in the poll of 2,028 CPAC attendees, winning only 1% of the vote in a four-way tie with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Former President Donald Trump placed first in the poll with 62% of the vote, trouncing all competitors. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who did not attend the event, came in second with 20%.
A relatively unknown Perry Johnson, a wealthy Michigan businessman, placed third as a write-in candidate with 5% of the vote, beating Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., who came in 4th with 3%.
Mr. Johnson declared his candidacy at a private event at the conference two days before the straw poll concluded. He was a last-minute addition to the CPAC speaker’s roster and his name did not appear on the ballot.
Mr. Johnson touted his third-place finish on Twitter, where he also promoted his new book and an upcoming appearance on the popular Fox News prime time show “Hannity.”
“Did you hear? I placed third in the @CPAC presidential straw poll as a write-in candidate, ahead of some big names! And I’m going to be on @seanhannity TONIGHT to share more about my #TwoCents Plan with Americans. Be sure to tune in to learn more about my vision to tame inflation and keep the American dream alive,” Mr. Johnson tweeted.
Jim McLaughlin, who conducted the poll for CPAC, said the straw poll was calculated with transparency and accuracy and all of the results are posted online.
He told The Times it’s not unusual for GOP presidential hopefuls who attend CPAC to bus in supporters to help them win votes in the straw poll and said it’s practiced in other straw polls, including the influential Iowa Straw Poll, which takes place the summer before the presidential primary season gets underway.
Mr. McLaughlin said he knew nothing about the offer to the Ramaswamy campaign.
Mr. Perry achieved an unlikely third-place finish, Mr. McLaughlin said, by organizing “and bringing a lot of people there, just like you would with an Iowa poll or a straw poll in New Hampshire or South Carolina.”
Mr. Ramaswamy’s campaign aide said the consultant who offered to help increase his straw poll support was affiliated with CPAC. The consultant did not offer to bus in supporters but told the aide if the Ramaswamy campaign brought in supporters, the consultant would get them into the conference.
It wasn’t clear to the campaign aide what other help the consultant would provide to whip support in favor of Mr. Ramaswamy in the straw poll, or whether the steep fee would end up in CPAC’s coffers or somewhere else.
The vague offer to the Ramaswamy campaign, the aide told The Times, was, “We can keep you in second or third,” place in the poll.
CPAC did not respond to an inquiry about Mr. Ramaswamy’s claims.
Mr. Ramaswamy told The Times he’s running against the corrupt political system, an over-controlling federal bureaucracy and the so-called consultant class that collects 10% of a candidate’s fundraising haul.
Mr. Ramaswamy called the offer to help him place high in the CPAC straw poll an example of the corrupt political system that is dominated by highly paid consultants.
“And we are going to break it, actually,” he said. “We are going to be doing things very differently as it relates to fundraising and breaking the 10% cartel.”