“Emergency: Ted Cruz under attack” declares the urgent subject line in Monday morning’s email. “The attacks from Donald Trump and the establishment are absolutely blistering,” reads the letter begging for contributions, “and Ted Cruz urgently needs our help to lock up this nomination.”
Really? Hasn’t the “establishment” been busy easing Cruz’s path to the nomination by trying to derail Donald Trump? Never mind. “With the continued support of grassroots patriots like us, Ted is well on his way to securing the necessary delegates and winning the nomination.”
This fundraising pitch did not come from the Cruz campaign, but from one of the growing army of super PACs working to get him elected. The “grassroots patriots” behind this particular super PAC, Keep the Promise III, are fracking billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks, who along with their wives gave $15 million to get the super PAC going. Keep the Promise III also goes by the name “Reigniting the Promise.”
Cruz’s presidential bid is benefitting from the no-holds-barred campaign finance system created by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, which trashed previous campaign finance regulations in Citizens United and other rulings. Those rulings gave rise to the creation of super PACs, which are allowed to take contributions of unlimited size.
Super PACs are only permitted by law to make independent expenditures. They are not allowed to coordinate with campaigns. But thanks to loose rules and enforcement by the perpetually gridlocked Federal Election Commission, Cruz and the super PACs supporting him have made a mockery of those rules.
Last week the Washington Post reported that super PACs are no longer just raising money and buying ads, but are actually taking over operations traditionally performed by candidates’ campaign committees, like holding pre-election rallies featuring the candidate. Cruz super PACs have, the Post reported, been “effectively serving as an extension of Cruz’s official campaign, hosting major rallies for him from South Carolina to Utah.”
The tactic serves to offload costs onto the super PAC, which has been financed by six-figure checks from wealthy Cruz supporters — allowing Cruz to harbor his resources for a drawn-out Republican nomination battle with front-runner Donald Trump.
How is this possible given rules against coordination? Cruz supporters say the candidate is simply invited to appear at the events as a “special guest,” which his campaign lawyers say is good enough to meet flimsy campaign finance rules. But Larry Noble of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center told the Post, “It’s one thing to have a candidate appear at something billed as a super PAC fundraiser. What this has morphed into is the super PAC putting on campaign events, and that is illegal.”
It’s actually hard to keep track of all the Cruz-supporting super PACs. There’s a family of four separate but affiliated super PACs operating under the Keep the Promise name – all funded by wealthy individuals, one of them now run by discredited Christian-nationalist “historian” David Barton. In December the Sunlight Foundation counted eight pro-Cruz super PACs. Since then, former Texas governor Rick Perry helped launch Keep the Promise to Veterans, and some of the same people behind the Keep the Promise super PACs decided that Cruz needed yet another one, and the Trusted Leadership PAC was born.
Politico reported in February that five of the major Cruz super PACs had spent $10.5 million in January and had $25.6 million cash on hand at the end of that month. Since then they’ve been spending heavily and the new Trusted Leadership PAC is meant to replenish the coffers for all the delegate battles between now and the convention. Cruz also benefits from super PAC spending that is aimed at denying Trump the delegates he needs to win the nomination.
The super PACs wield their muscle in a variety of ways. Last month Keep the Promise hosted a campaign rally for Cruz in Arizona, and the super PAC denied access to a reporter from the Phoenix New Times because a KTP official said the paper writes “hit pieces on Republicans.”