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Ted Cruz faces campaign finance complaint over podcast deal

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz speaks about the Border Bill during a press conference at the Senate Radio/Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 6, 2024.
Lenin Nolly/NurPhoto via REUTERS
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz speaks about the Border Bill during a press conference at the Senate Radio/Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 6, 2024.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is facing a formal campaign finance complaint over money sent from the company that syndicates his podcast to a political action committee supporting his reelection bid.

The complaint, filed Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission, alleges Cruz may have improperly directed radio distribution and marketing firm iHeartMedia to send over $630,000 to the Truth and Courage PAC, a group dedicated to Cruz’ reelection effort. The amount would exceed the $5,000 limit an officeholder is permitted to solicit for a super PAC.

End Citizens United and the Campaign Legal Center filed the complaint and are seeking a formal FEC investigation into the payments.

The terms of iHeartMedia’s payments are unclear. The company’s agreement with Cruz for distributing his podcast is not public. But the complaint asserts that Cruz could have violated campaign finance laws if he directed iHeartMedia to give to the super PAC by exceeding the solicitation limit.

The complaint also asserts the payments were improperly reported as “other receipts” rather than campaign contributions. “Other receipts” is generally reserved for interest or income on assets already owned by a PAC.

“By soliciting or directing $630,850.08 of iHeartMedia’s corporate funds to or on behalf of TCP in connection with his 2024 election, Cruz appears to have brazenly violated these federal campaign finance laws,” the complaint reads.

Cruz’s podcast, “Verdict with Ted Cruz,” has been the center of ethics questions against the Republican senator for years. The Campaign Legal Center filed another complaint against Cruz in 2022 when iHeartMedia picked up his podcast, asserting it violated rules barring lobbyists from giving gifts to senators. The company, headquartered in San Antonio, spent over $4 million in lobbying that year.

Cruz is also the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees communications, media and broadcasting.

Cruz contends that he makes no money from the thrice-weekly podcast and that he volunteers his time as would any guest speaker on network news. The Senate Ethics Committee informed the Campaign Legal Center last February that it had found Cruz had not acted improperly.

But Cruz’s claim appeared to be contradicted earlier this year when Forbes and The Houston Chronicle reported on the company’s payments to the Truth and Courage PAC.

Truth and Courage PAC states on its website that its “focus is ensuring that Ted Cruz is re-elected to the United States Senate in 2024.” The group has raised and spent over $7 million since its creation, including over $2 million raised in this election cycle. The group works independently from Cruz’ campaign and is legally barred from coordinating strategy with him.

Cruz is facing a competitive race against U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, who has raised over $21 million in his bid to unseat Cruz. Democrats are eager to flip Texas as they face a challenging Senate map this cycle with most Republicans up for reelection this year in comfortably red states.

Cruz and his supporters are on guard after the closer-than-expected margin in 2018 against former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke. Cruz has raised over $46 million this cycle in his official campaign committee.

From the Texas Tribune