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Hiding In The Crowd: The Myth Of Ted Cruz’s Citizen-Funded Campaign

In this photo, Republican Presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Iowa GOP's Growth and Opportunity Party at the Iowa state fair grounds in Des Moines, Iowa, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015. (Nati Harnik/ AP)MoreCloseclosemore
In this photo, Republican Presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Iowa GOP's Growth and Opportunity Party at the Iowa state fair grounds in Des Moines, Iowa, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015. (Nati Harnik/ AP)

The call to action on Ted Cruz’s campaign crowdfunding site, cruzcrowd.com, begins with the Texas senator’s typically nuanced, temperate language.

“Who says political campaigns are only funded by individuals with deep pockets?” he challenges. (Well actually, The New York Times — a publication guilty in the eyes of the right of both a liberal perspective and solid, in-depth, factual reporting — does. According to a recent investigation, almost half the money financing the 2016 presidential race has come from 158 families, 138 of whom have donated exclusively to Republican candidates.)

But Cruz goes on to provide a different response to his own rhetorical question:

“The answer is simple: it is the same naysayers who have doubted us from the very beginning, the Washington cartel. When we decided to run for the United States Senate, the cartel laughed. When we faced a wealthy and better funded opponent in 2012, the cartel laughed ... When we decided to run for President… well, the cartel is still laughing. The Washington cartel laughs at those that do not play by their rules. Well let them laugh my friends, because WE do not play by their rules!”

The laughing cartel? It sounds like a 21st century Hardy Boys story, doesn’t it? But there’s no mystery to who is funding Sen. Cruz’s campaign. His coffers have benefited most from the three families of those 158 who have made the largest donations to date. That’s why there’s an inescapable irony in Cruz’s crowing that “CruzCrowd threatens the Washington elite because it bypasses traditional fundraising wisdom and allows you, the individual, not a DC power broker, to finance the race for the Presidency.”

the Cruz campaign is emulating the Girl Scouts, albeit with scarier language and more sinister objectives.

OK, so let’s stipulate that every candidate but Bernie Sanders is raking in big bucks from large donors and superPACs. Isn’t there still something refreshingly democratic in Cruz’s crowdfunding approach?

Well, yes. The system is simple and smart, and borrows heavily from the social network-based business model used to sell Tupperware and cosmetics. Calls to action at the bottom of the cruzcrowd.com home page exhort visitors to “Share your Links,” “Collect Badges” and chillingly (though ostensibly in keeping with the Revolutionary War theme), “Grow your Militia.” Each and every supporter (or, to use Cruz’s language, “patriot”) can create his or her own fundraising page, solicit donors via social media, and, in a nod to the gamification of everything, earn badges along the way based on the size and number of donations they obtain for Cruz’s campaign. As they accumulate badges, they earn Cruz swag. One badge nets a bumper sticker; 30 wins a signed copy of Ted Cruz’s modestly titled book, “A Time for Truth.” And as if that’s not compelling enough, the site lets you “monitor the recruits you sign up and the dollars raised by your larger network of patriots.”

Maybe it’s all this talk of badges, but I keep thinking about the Girl Scouts. In their quest to sell cookies, should they emulate the Cruz campaign? They could call out the PTA-cartel for its monopoly on bake sales, Tweet the purchases (and more ominously, non-purchases) made by friends, neighbors and family. Girl Scouts carrying automatic weapons of the sort that Cruz himself fires in his infamous Machine Gun Bacon commercial could form militias. Buy a box of Thin Mints or face my revolutionary wrath, suckah!

But perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the Cruz campaign is emulating the Girl Scouts, albeit with scarier language and more sinister objectives.

And apparently, with considerably less success. As of today, the all-time leading fundraiser at cruzcrowd.com is a man from Texas who has raised $2,825. The second top patriot has rustled up $500, and the remaining eight have raised between $250 and $360 each. And not a one of these patriots is a DC power broker. Nope, the real would-be kingmakers in Cruz’s camp come largely from Texas: $15 million from The Wilks family, which has profited wildly from the fracking boom; $11.3 million from New York (!) hedge fund manager Robert Mercer and his daughter; and $10 million from Texas-born private equity investor Toby Neugebauer.

Now that’s what a Cruz revolution looks like: crowd-funded on the outside, big money fueled on the inside.

Take that, Washington cartel!

Related:

Julie Wittes Schlack Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Julie Wittes Schlack writes essays, short stories and book reviews for various publications, including WBUR's Cognoscenti and The ARTery, and is the author of “This All-at-Onceness” (Pact Press, 2019).

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