WASHINGTON — His family has an unmatched political pedigree and numerous relatives have served in public office. But Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is running for president as a political neophyte, surrounded not by seasoned campaign professionals but by an unconventional assortment of novices from across and outside the political spectrum.
Kennedy’s campaign has been financed by millions in donations from a motley group of supporters that include a sizable group who share Kennedy’s vaccine skepticism. A Globe analysis of his spending shows a similar pattern as his base of support. Kennedy is spending heavily on private security as well as outside consultants with limited to no political experience, with a smaller investment in traditional political advertising and grass-roots operations. The campaign also has a taste for glitz, with pricey hotel stays and large catering budgets, as Kennedy spends significantly on travel.
The picture that emerges is a campaign that largely resembles its principal — unconventional and eschewing traditional party orthodoxies.
Kennedy’s campaign spent almost $9 million through the end of September, the deadline for the latest filing, according to the Federal Election Commission, leaving an additional $6 million in the bank. Kennedy initially declared his candidacy in the Democratic primary, but switched to an independent bid in October.
Roughly one-third of the spending has gone to campaign upkeep, like renting office spaces, maintaining a website, and buying supplies. Another roughly 10 percent has been spent on salary for employees.
But large chunks of spending have also gone to less typical sources.
Kennedy has spent almost $1 million on private security, three times the nearest comparable primary campaign.
Kennedy has repeatedly asked the federal government for Secret Service protection, citing the assassinations of his father, Robert F. Kennedy, and uncle, John F. Kennedy; thwarted intruders at Kennedy’s home and campaign events; and the volume of threats the campaign says it has received. The requests have been declined by the Department of Homeland Security in consultation with a congressional advisory committee, under a law that provides for Secret Service protection only for “major” presidential candidates.
The Kennedy campaign said granting federal protection would not be unprecedented, noting that Barack Obama received it in May 2007, a year and a half before his election. Another of Kennedy’s uncles, the late Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the campaign said, received protection as he was considering a presidential run in 1979, over a year before the election.
Kennedy has also been spending significantly on consultants, several with nontraditional resumes.
In a written response to the Globe’s questions about Kennedy’s spending, his campaign cited a blend of experience and outside expertise as a model for Kennedy’s hoped-for presidential administration, to combine new approaches with those who know how to implement them. It also cited Kennedy’s desire to run a “civil, courteous, unifying” campaign.
“Conventional political reflexes usually don’t reflect those priorities,” the campaign said. “That is why he draws heavily on people who are not so steeped in conventional political thinking.”
Roughly $90,000 has gone to Charles Eisenstein, an author, speaker, and philosopher, via Eisenstein’s LLC for “communications consulting.” Eisenstein has never been paid by a federal campaign before, according to the FEC. In a podcast episode featuring him and Kennedy, the two bonded over similar views of environmental conservationism, meditative spirituality, opposing a military-industrial war complex, and being what Eisenstein described as “COVID dissidents” who questioned public health measures during the pandemic. Eisenstein also embraces beliefs shared by Kennedy about a shadowy conspiracy behind the assassination of his uncle.
“I had kind of given up hope on politics,” Eisenstein told Kennedy, saying that he feared his vision for a humanist, antiwar future died with the assassinations of Kennedy’s father, uncle, and others in the 1960s, but that it was being rekindled. “I feel like maybe that timeline hasn’t died, maybe we can pick up that thread, and it’s so significant that a Kennedy just so happens to be in a position to do that. It’s one of the synchronicities that speak to or speak from a larger organizing intelligence in the world.”
Eisenstein did not respond to a request for comment on his participation in the campaign.
Kennedy has also paid roughly $260,000 to Parker Reed Corp., a brand strategy firm run by Russell Parker. The firm and Parker’s only other political work tracked by the FEC was on behalf of idiosyncratic Democrat and former Kennedy campaign manager Dennis Kucinich’s congressional campaign in 2010 and 2012, the year he lost reelection after redistricting.
A data protection firm, Achayot Partners, was paid $20,000 for digital consulting, having only previously worked on the quixotic campaign of child-actor-turned-cryptocurrency millionaire Brock Pierce, according to the FEC. The company is co-owned by Brittany Kaiser, according to SEC records. She worked at Cambridge Analytica during its misappropriation of Facebook user data to help elect Donald Trump. She has since become a data protection evangelist and also managed Pierce’s campaign.
Another $12,000 for data consulting went to a Georgia-based DJ with a search engine optimization business, who also had no prior political payments logged by the FEC.
Other spending is linked to people who may know Kennedy from the world of vaccine or COVID skepticism, including nearly $40,000 for media production to Brian Burrowes, who edited two vaccine-skeptic films including one executive produced by Kennedy, “Vaxxed II: The People’s Truth.” Though the expenditure is not yet included in FEC filings, Kennedy also debuted a short film about his independent campaign launch directed by Mikki Willis, known for the COVID misinformation-laden viral video “Plandemic.” More than $10,000 went to Helen Brady, a Massachusetts Republican who unsuccessfully ran for state auditor in 2018 and against Bourne Representative Bill Keating for Congress in 2020. Brady told The Daily Beast she connected with Kennedy through his vaccine-skeptic group Children’s Health Defense and helped him secure space in Boston to launch his presidential campaign.
The campaign has not been completely bereft of political experience. Kucinich, a former congressman and mayor who waged his own quixotic and unsuccessful Democratic presidential campaigns in 2004 and 2008, was paid roughly $250,000 from May to October through a consulting firm. Shortly after declaring he would run as an independent in October, Kennedy announced Kucinich was leaving the campaign to be replaced by Kennedy’s daughter-in-law, Amaryllis Fox Kennedy, a former CIA officer, author, and speaker with no political experience.
Kennedy has also paid almost $200,000 to the polling group John Zogby strategies, a longtime public opinion pollster, though one that has worked directly for few political campaigns. A handful of Kennedy’s salaried staff has political campaign experience, as well, including a current Republican state representative in New Hampshire.
Kennedy has also racked up more than $600,000 in travel costs and more than $200,000 in catering costs, the latter for fund-raising, with some individually pricey spends. The campaign spent more than $60,000 for a September catering budget in Los Angeles for fund-raising and more than $40,000 for an LA event in August. Kennedy spent more than $20,000 at the Equinox Hotel in New York in September, over $14,000 at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, where he earlier launched his campaign, in May, and more than $8,000 at the Boston Ritz-Carlton in August.
Meanwhile, Kennedy has spent relatively little on more traditional campaign advertising, though he has spent considerably on “media production.” In the only significant line items clearly marked as an advertising buy, the campaign spent $86,000 on Facebook ads. Other active presidential campaigns this cycle have already earmarked hundreds of thousands of dollars for digital and other forms of ads.