In March 2009, as the Texas Senate prepared for an all-night debate on a controversial voter ID bill, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst invited a lawyer and rising Republican star to participate behind the scenes. His name was Ted Cruz.
Dewhurst and Cruz are now battling each other in a heated runoff race to be the Republican nominee for Texas’ open U.S. Senate seat. But before they were campaign rivals, they faced a disagreement over the value of Cruz's involvement in the 2009 arrangement, which produced a nearly $50,000 legal bill.
The rivals have traded fierce jabs during the campaign, with Dewhurst questioning the character of the clients Cruz represents and Cruz questioning Dewhurst’s conservative credentials, but so far, neither candidate has brought up this exchange from three years ago.
“In 2009, David Dewhurst hired Ted Cruz to advise the Senate on legal issues surrounding the voter ID bill,” Cruz spokesman James Bernsen told The Texas Tribune in a statement this week. “Ted has not commented on that representation because of the attorney-client duty he owed Dewhurst.”
Cruz had recently joined Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, a private law firm, after a five-year stint as Texas solicitor general. The firm ultimately received $10,000 from the Texas Senate Republican Caucus for the legal services he provided. State Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, then chairman of the caucus, told the Tribune that the expense was a not a big deal at the time and that senators chipped in to cover it. The David Dewhurst Committee, the lieutenant governor’s political account, contributed $2,500.
But in Dewhurst’s office, initially, it was a big deal — about five times bigger. Before settling for a significantly lower figure, Cruz originally billed the “Republican Conference of the Texas Senate,” via the lieutenant governor’s office, for $49,414.50.
The original bill, which was obtained by the Tribune, was for slightly more than 70 hours of work reviewing background materials, conferring with the clients, and driving back and forth between Houston and Austin over a 10-day span at an hourly rate of $695.
“It was shocking to receive such a large bill for such little work,” said Rob Johnson, Dewhurst’s chief of staff at the time and the recipient of the original bill for Cruz's work. Johnson now runs a Super PAC supporting Dewhurst’s U.S. Senate bid.
The voter ID bill did not make it through the legislative process in the 2009 session, though it did in 2011. The requirement hasn't been implemented, however, as it faces a legal challenge.
Johnson said Cruz was brought into the mix to benefit Cruz as much as anyone else and was not expected to come at a significant cost. “Basically, Ted had been an attorney on the staff at the attorney general’s office and had worked on voter ID in the past, and the lieutenant governor was giving him an opportunity to help the cause,” Johnson said. “He took advantage of it.”
When asked for more details on the legal services rendered or the negotiations that led to the bill being cut down to $10,000, Bernsen reiterated that Cruz “cannot comment on those issues due to the attorney-client privilege he owes Lt. Gov. Dewhurst."
“It is ironic, however,” Bernsen said, “that the Dewhurst campaign continues to attack Ted's prior legal clients, given that David Dewhurst is among them."
In response, Mark Miner, a Dewhurst campaign spokesman, said that “what's not ironic is that we now know Ted Cruz chooses profit over principle whether he's ‘working’ on voter ID, for a felon who was an architect of one of the biggest judicial malpractice scandals in American history, or for a Chinese company that killed American jobs.”
Cruz has disputed the Dewhurst campaign’s characterizations of his work in those cases. He did not represent Robert Mericle — the first client mentioned by Miner — in any criminal matters, and he has downplayed his role in a dispute involving Chinese tire manufacturers.
As for Cruz’s March 2009 clients, Dewhurst and the Republican senators, Cruz wrote in a letter to Johnson attached to the original bill that it was a “pleasure” to work with them. It concluded, “I look forward to having the opportunity to work with you again on other matters in the future.”