Lobbyists are serving as both sources of campaign funding and ammunition for the two Republican candidates in a runoff for U.S. Senate.
“Everyone who has business in front of the state Legislature — 100 percent of them — are with David Dewhurst, and they have to be,” Cruz said. “I have heard from dozens of people who have been told in no uncertain terms, if they ever want a bill to pass the Texas Legislature, they will support David Dewhurst for the Senate, and we knew that when we started.”
Allegations that Cruz is in the pocket of the Washington, D.C., lobby and special interest groups have become a centerpiece of Dewhurst's runoff campaign.
“Washington special interests are supporting Ted Cruz because they know he will be beholden to them and help carry out their agenda, which has driven our country further to the brink of disaster,” said Dewhurst spokesman Matt Hirsch.
Dewhurst is the clear choice among registered lobbyists in Texas, drawing 26 times more money from them than Cruz, according to a recent analysis of campaign finance data by the Houston Chronicle. Lobbyists in Washington, D.C., are donating to the race on a smaller scale but favor Cruz, according to the same analysis.
Dewhurst attracted $189,869 from 85 registered lobbyists in Texas, while just four Texas lobbyists gave a combined $11,750 to Cruz, according to the report. Federal lobbyists and their families have donated $120,148 to Cruz. Dewhurst has drawn less than $25,000 from that sector.
Longtime Austin lobbyist Bill Miller said there’s an easy explanation for all the Austin lobby contributions going into Dewhurst’s coffers: The ones who work at the Capitol know him well. Employees of Miller's lobbying firm, HillCo Partners, have donated $20,000 to Dewhurst's campaign, including a $2,500 donation from Miller in October, according to opensecrets.org. Miller said he has felt no pressure to give to Dewhurst.
“I’ve never met Ted Cruz,” he said. “I’ve dealt with David Dewhurst a lot. I know Dewhurst well and I like him. I respect him.”
Another high-powered Austin lobbyist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said most people who make their living trying to influence lawmakers at the Texas Capitol don’t have to put much thought into whom they support.
“It’s logic. If [Dewhurst] wins, he’s a U.S. senator you know and have dealt with,” the lobbyist said. “If he loses, you’re going to deal with him as lieutenant governor. Ted doesn’t hold a position to have to deal with him if he loses.”
Austin lobbyists say the drumbeat for more money from Dewhurst's campaign grew particularly intense last week, ahead of the June 30 second-quarter deadline to report contributions. One contacted by the Tribune said his lobby business would be ruined if he openly supported Cruz.
“The last thing you want to be is on an enemies list for not having given" to Dewhurst, the lobbyist said. “He’s been in office forever, so he’s got a network of staff people and you see them on the street and they are pressuring you left and right to support the guy. … I’m toast if I’m out there openly supporting Cruz.”
Since last year, the Cruz campaign has been trying to paint Dewhurst as the lobbyist-supported candidate in the race. In a strategy memo the campaign released in October, campaign consultant Jason Johnson predicted Dewhurst “will certainly raise several million dollars from low-hanging fruit — lobbyists and business interests who are forced to support his Senate campaign because he is the sitting Lieutenant Governor.”
The Cruz campaign continues to make the “lobbyist” connection whenever it can. Last month, Cruz spokesman James Bernsen tweeted, “Ted Cruz hits 80,000 fans on Facebook tonight. David Dewhurst still stuck at 28,000. I did not know there were 28,000 lobbyists in Austin.”
Cruz isn’t alone in alleging that Dewhurst has cornered the market on financial support from Texas lobbyists.
Last year, when former Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams was a potential candidate for U.S. Senate and Dewhurst had yet to launch his campaign, Williams told the Tribune that Dewhurst’s tight grip on some deep-pocketed donors was a major reason why he opted to run for a different seat.
"It made it, for me, difficult to raise dollars and other kinds of things," Williams said at the time. "He's not just a rich guy. He's also a lieutenant governor … and if he gets in the race and he loses, he's still lieutenant governor next time. Or maybe governor, the way things are going."
Dewhurst’s campaign says voters are more concerned about which candidate is getting more money from special interests in Washington, D.C., than in their own state capital.
“Ted Cruz is understandably frustrated by the significant amount of support David Dewhurst has received from Texas, whereas a majority of his support comes from D.C. insiders and Washington special interest groups,” Hirsch said. “Texans are supporting David Dewhurst because they have witnessed firsthand over the last nine years as he repeatedly cut taxes and spending to help create the strongest economy in the nation.”