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Cruz’s Quiet Fundraising Strength: A Network of Wealthy Donors

For all his bashing of “billionaire Republican donors” who “actively despise our base,” Ted Cruz, the anti-establishment senator from Texas, is being bolstered by his own robust base of wealthy contributors.

By Katie Zezima and Matea Gold, The Washington Post
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz at the CNN Presidential Debate in Simi Valley, California on Sept. 16, 2015.

Wealthy investors shot skeet with Sen. Ted Cruz in Park City, Utah, earlier this month. Conservative lawyers gathered in a clubby Washington restaurant last week to raise money for his presidential bid. And on Monday, billionaire technology entrepreneur Darwin Deason and five other wealthy Texans announced that they were coming aboard his campaign.

For all his bashing of “billionaire Republican donors” who “actively despise our base,” the anti-establishment senator from Texas is being bolstered by his own robust base of wealthy contributors. Cruz raised $5.2 million through the end of September from supporters who gave him the $2,700 maximum — making him No. 2 in the GOP race for large donors, after former Florida governor Jeb Bush, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute.

Cruz’s un­or­tho­dox campaign has hit on a fundraising formula that no other candidate has been able to match: raising millions from a robust base of grass-roots supporters while building a substantial network of rich backers.

The senator’s quiet fundraising prowess — he has collected $26.5 million to date — could help give him staying power in what is sure to be a hard-fought battle for the GOP nomination. The structure of his donor base closely resembles that of President Obama, whose vaunted fundraising operation intensely focused on low-dollar givers as well as major bundlers, bringing in a record $783 million for his 2012 reelection.

Cruz has had trouble making inroads in New York financial circles or on Florida’s donor-rich Gold Coast. But he is finding support among like-minded constitutionalists, religious conservatives, and oil and gas executives, campaign finance filings and fundraising invitations show.

“A lot of Wall Street is out of touch with mainstream America,” Cruz’s wife, Heidi — who is on leave from her job as a managing director at Goldman Sachs and is one of his most prolific fundraisers — said recently. “That’s not our funding base.”

“People are swayed by his intellect,” said Mica Mosbacher, a Houston fundraiser helping organize events for Cruz across the country. “He always says, ‘Ask me all the hard questions.’ And he is very polite and humble. I think the firebrand you see [in public] is his passion getting ahead of him. Those who are supporting him admire that he will stand up for what’s right.”

A Republican strategist well connected to the donor world added: “When he’s with major donors, they expect the guy they see with all the red meat, but they instead see an intelligent but toned-down lawyer with real bona fides. He will say things like, basically, ‘This is politics — you’ve got go out there and sell and perform.’ ”

At a recent fundraiser in New York, Cruz made the case that he is the candidate to unite a fractious Republican Party, arguing that he can energize evangelicals, tea partyers, military hawks and fiscal conservatives.

“His feeling — and I agree with him — is that you cannot make one segment love you and another segment hate you,” said venture capitalist Ken Abramowitz, who hosted the gathering. “He stressed that he would appeal to all the segments but still maintain his message.”

Shmuley Boteach, a New Jersey rabbi and former congressional candidate, has been introducing Cruz to members of the Jewish community in New York and Los Angeles. Boteach said Cruz is diplomatic when it comes to hot-button issues — such as the time Boteach told the senator he has a gay brother and doesn’t think he should speak so stridently against same-sex marriage.

“He’ll respond very respectfully and say, ‘Okay, Shmuley, we respectfully disagree,’ ” Boteach said. “I do not find him dogmatic about it. . . . When you get to know the guy, he’s measured. This is a Princeton, Harvard graduate.”

It’s a different scene on the campaign trail, where Cruz’s fiery jabs have helped him amass a large pool of enthusiastic small donors. By the end of September, he had raised the second-largest amount in low-dollar contributions among the GOP field: $9.9 million to retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson’s $18.2 million.

Overall, Cruz has the most balanced mix of donors among all the Republican hopefuls. Of the $24.5 million he has raised for the primary race, 40 percent has come from contributors who have given him $200 or less, 25 percent from those who have given $201 to $999, 13 percent from those who have given $1,000 to $2,699, and 21 percent from those who have given the $2,700 maximum, according to the Campaign Finance Institute.

Obama, by comparison, raised 28 percent of his 2012 donations from people who gave $200 or less and 22 percent from max-out donors.

It remains to be seen whether Cruz, who is hovering around 8 percent in national polls, will gain enough momentum to scale donations up as dramatically as Obama did in his campaigns.

Cruz has long said that his successful 2012 Senate run (and now his presidential bid) attempted to emulate Obama’s 2008 election tactics. Cruz gave Senate campaign staffers a copy of “The Audacity to Win,” a book written by Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe.

“When it comes to fundraising, I think one of the greatest surprises, from the perspective of the Washington chattering class, has been the incredible, astonishing fundraising that this campaign has benefited from,” Cruz said Monday in Houston, where he announced that six wealthy supporters of former Texas governor Rick Perry are now backing him.

Among them were Deason, who gave $5 million to a pro-Perry super PAC in June, and Dallas tax consultant G. Brint Ryan, who donated $250,000. Such high-capacity supporters could inject huge sums into a group of super PACs supporting Cruz, which reported raising $38 million by the end of June.

Campaign finance filings show that more than half of Cruz’s max-out donations are coming from his home state, Texas, where he is methodically bringing longtime backers of Perry and the Bush family into his fundraising network.

“Their support comes from the same type of people — the people who want a change,” Wilson said.

Mosbacher, whose late husband, Robert Mosbacher, served as commerce secretary under George H.W. Bush, considers herself more of an “establishment type.” She decided to back Cruz because she is convinced that he can win.

Cruz’s wife, Heidi, has also been a key asset, said Mosbacher, pinch-hitting at fundraisers when her husband gets stuck in Washington. At one recent breakfast in Houston, she was so effective that she won over attendees who had not yet committed to the campaign.

“I was very surprised who wrote checks,” Mosbacher said. “They weren’t sure about Ted Cruz until they met Heidi.”

Heidi Cruz has said she made 600 fundraising calls in the second quarter, typically reaching 20 to 25 people a day.

“I don’t want to say it’s easy, and I don’t close every deal,” she said last month. “I think people want to be a part of something that addresses the main issue of the day, number one, which is Washington versus the people.”

She has even been reaching out to bundlers who are already backing other candidates. Andrew Sabin, a Jeb Bush supporter who has had the Cruz family to his Long Island home and supported Cruz’s Senate campaign, said she gave him a call this month.

“I love his wife,” Sabin said — but he told Heidi Cruz that he is “100 percent” with Bush.

Others are coming over. Chart Westcott, a Dallas biotech investor, switched his allegiance to Cruz after his first choice, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, dropped out of the race.

Westcott, who supported Cruz’s Senate bid, said he was pleased to hear the granular details of how Cruz’s team is playing the long game and placing a “laserlike” focus on amassing delegates, a pitch that campaign officials also made at the recent donor retreat in Park City.

“I think when you look at the financial shape of all the campaigns,” Westcott said, “Cruz has proven himself to be a powerhouse on both sides of the ledger.”

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