The campaign of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz tore into U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke on Friday afternoon, accusing his Democratic challenger of "hypocrisy" for "accepting support from a political action committee at a Washington, D.C. fundraiser, even though he campaigns in Texas against taking any support from political action committees," per a Cruz news release.
At issue is a fundraiser Thursday in Washington, D.C. that was co-hosted by both the O'Rourke campaign and a political action committee. Since launching his campaign to unseat Cruz last year, O'Rourke has famously promised to accept no contributions from PACs, which are organizations through which ideological, business or labor groups raise and donate money to candidates. The PAC in question is End Citizens United, a group that donates to Democratic candidates and supports changes to the campaign finance system.
“Beto O’Rourke travels all over Texas claiming that PACs are corrupt, and he’s made his alleged rejection of PAC influence a cornerstone of his campaign,” Cruz spokesperson Catherine Frazier said in a statement. “Yet he held a fundraiser hosted by End Citizens United PAC. O'Rourke’s actions do not match his words and Texans need to know that Beto O'Rourke is a candidate who says one thing on the campaign trail then does another in Washington."
O'Rourke spokesman Chris Evans defended the event as in keeping with the candidate's principles in a statement earlier this week to the Tribune.
"Thursday's grassroots event is entirely our event — we are hosting it just like we have done with Beers With Beto events across Texas," Evans wrote. "We pay all the bills and each attendee has gotten a ticket through our campaign as an individual contribution."
Evans said that End Citizens United PAC "shared our event info with their supporters in the area to help get the word out and encourage people to attend. No one is getting their ticket through them and they have not picked up any of the cost of the event."
Evans said the situation was similar to other groups backing O'Rourke's bid against Cruz, who "regularly help to spread the word about what he's up to and the possible events interested individuals can attend."
Since his successful run for U.S. Senate in 2012, Cruz has accepted PAC contributions. His re-election campaign's fundraising network includes two affiliated PACs that have reportedly raised $4.3 million since last year.
This isn't the first time Cruz's camp has charged O'Rourke with hypocrisy over his claim that his campaign isn't accepting PAC money. Over the summer, the Cruz campaign hammered O'Rourke for accepting bundled contributions from J-Street, a PAC that supports a two-state solution to the conflict in Israel. J-Street has also hosted O'Rourke at fundraising events.
When the issue first flared in July, O'Rourke maintained he kept his pledge.
“The best way to resolve this question that the senator has raised is to go to the Federal Elections Commission website and look at every FEC report that I have filed as a candidate for the House of Representatives and now as a candidate for the United States Senate," O'Rourke said in a radio interview on The Chad Hasty Show in Lubbock. "And what you will see on the line that asks the amount of contributions from political action committees is zero, and it’s been zero every single quarter we’ve reported, and it’ll be zero when we report that next quarter."
"So though there are members of J Street that have contributed to this campaign, they have contributed as individuals," O'Rourke continued. "Their names appear individually with the amount that they donated on our FEC report. So I’m grateful for everyone’s contributions."
Campaign finance experts interviewed by the Tribune on this front made a distinction between accepting money from a PAC — which O'Rourke has not done — and the more subjective question of getting help from a PAC. On that latter issue, they said, Cruz may have a point.
"There’s no legal standard for what constitutes accepting help from a PAC ... so we're automatically in the realm of opinion," said Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause. "On the one hand, you have a guy who is holding up his promise [to not accept PAC money], but I certainly consider the receipt of contributions bundled by a PAC to be accepting help from a PAC. It’s not the same thing as accepting PAC money, but yeah, it’s accepting help from a PAC."
"Cruz’s criticism is technically correct in that the PAC gave some help to O’Rourke, but all they did was pass along contributions," added Brett Kappel, a campaign finance lawyer at Akerman LLP. "They didn’t give PAC money."