For Some SuperPACs Backing Ted Cruz, It's Time To Unite Against Trump

Mar 24, 2016
Originally published on March 25, 2016 9:22 am

As Ted Cruz insists he can still overtake GOP front-runner Donald Trump and win the Republican nomination outright, the Texas senator has an innovative and well-funded alliance of superPACs supporting his effort.

The 2016 campaign has not been kind to presidential superPACs. The ostensibly independent committees, which help presidential candidates at arm's length and with no fundraising limits, failed to help Republican hopeful Marco Rubio. And the superPAC backing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spent more than $100 million, but couldn't get the one-time front-runner past the first round of states.

Charles Spies, a Washington lawyer who ran the Bush group, Right to Rise USA, said he learned this lesson: "If you are running against a reality television star who can generate billions of dollars of earned media, the utility of superPAC funds is greatly diminished."

But for Ted Cruz, it's a different story. He's fought his way to second place, thanks in part to the numerous independent groups backing him. Spies described it as "a unique structure that, my understanding is, was set up because donors wanted to have more control over how their funds were spent."

In the Cruz alliance, it's hard to remember all the different superPACs without a scorecard:

  • Keep The Promise PAC
  • Keep The Promise I
  • Keep The Promise II
  • Keep The Promise III
  • Keep The Promise To Veterans
  • Stand For Truth

They have their specialties. One stages events where Cruz can show up, for example, while another does digital and social media.

Three of the superPACs are funded mainly by one or a few donors. Keep The Promise III seems to depend heavily on donors who give through corporate accounts.

It's confusing. Even the superPACs thought so — and more important, so did potential donors.

Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster who runs Keep The Promise I, paraphrased donors' reactions: "Well, you have all these pro-Cruz superPACs, which one should I give to? Do the ones that are run by wealthy families even need my money? Which one is doing radio? Who's doing digital? Who's doing TV? "

To end the confusion, most of the superPACs now have consolidated under Trusted Leadership (emphasis on -ted), which itself is a superPAC. Conway heads up that one as well.

She said the alliance has made fundraising easier, as the groups solicit former donors to the pro-Bush behemoth Right To Rise and Conservative Solutions PAC, which backed Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

The alliance also streamlines operations for the big push to the convention. Conway said, "There's very little time to plan and react. It's a little bit more pants-on-fire now."

Not all of the main Cruz superPACs joined the alliance, and neither did the small but aggressive pro-Cruz group called Courageous Conservatives PAC. Its consultant, Rick Shaftan, said, "We're not nice guys. We're the bad guys of the PAC world."

Courageous Conservatives runs on a shoestring. "So our buys are like these $12 stations," Shaftan said. "But the $12 stations in a rural county, where like in the morning, everybody's listening to it."

One of the group's anti-Trump radio ads is voiced entirely by a Franklin County, Va., voter. Reading carefully, Catina Wright said she had been a Trump fan for years.

"I've read all his books, couldn't wait for him to run for president, and took a half a day off from work to go to a Trump rally. But halfway through, I was appalled and embarrassed I was supporting this man."

She continued, "I want to apologize for my few months of temporary insanity supporting Donald Trump. God help our country if this man wins." And she endorsed Cruz.

Meanwhile, the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute reports that the superPACs in the new alliance have spent $22 million so far.

Then there's Keep the Promise II, which didn't join. It's funded entirely by Texas investor Toby Neugebauer. He gave $10 million; it's spent only $1 million.

CNN reported that Keep The Promise II was holding back till the winner-take-all primaries this spring. But those primaries have already started, and there's still no sign of KTP II activity.

Charles Spies, of the Bush superPAC, said, "If you were going to dedicate resources that way, it might have made sense to spend money in Ohio, for example."

Ohio Gov. John Kasich won that March 15 primary. Keep The Promise II is still sitting on $9 million.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Super PACs don't have a great track record in the 2016 presidential race. Jeb Bush was backed by more than $100 million in super PAC spending and still flamed out. Ted Cruz is counting on a different fate, insisting that he can overtake Donald Trump with an alliance of super PACs. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: The guy in charge of the Bush super PAC is Washington lawyer Charles Spies. His conclusion from the primaries...

CHARLES SPIES: If you are running against a reality television star who can generate billions of dollars of earned media, the utility of super PAC funds is greatly diminished.

OVERBY: As for the Ted Cruz super PAC alliance, Spies described it this way.

SPIES: The unique structure that my understanding is - was set up because donors wanted to have more control over how their funds were spent.

OVERBY: But in the Cruz alliance, it's hard to remember all the different super PACs without a scorecard. Taking a deep breath here - Keep the Promise PAC, Keep the Promise I, Keep the Promise II, Keep the Promise III, Keep the Promise to Veterans and Stand for Truth. They have their specialties. One does events where Cruz can show up, another does digital and social media and so forth. Three of them are funded mainly by one or a few donors. One PAC seems to depend heavily on donors who give through corporate accounts, confusing - yeah, even the super PACs thought so. Kellyanne Conway is a Republican pollster who runs Keep the Promise I.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Donors who may have said, well, you have all these pro-Cruz super PACs. Which one should I give to? Do the ones that are run by wealthy families even need my money? Which one is doing radio? Who's doing digital? Who's doing TV?

OVERBY: So now most of the super PACs have consolidated under Trusted Leadership, which itself is a super PAC. Conway heads up that one as well. She said the alliance has made fundraising easier as the groups solicit former donors to Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio PACs. The alliance also streamlines operations for the big push to the convention.

CONWAY: There's very little time to plan and react. It's a little bit more pants on fire now.

OVERBY: Not all of the Cruz super PACs joined the alliance and neither did Courageous Conservatives PAC. Here's one of its ads.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CATINA WRIGHT: My name is Catina Wright from Franklin County, Va.

OVERBY: Catina Wright said she had read all of Donald Trump's books.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WRIGHT: Couldn't wait for him to run for president and took a half a day off from work to go to a Trump rally. But halfway through, I was appalled and embarrassed that I was supporting this man.

OVERBY: She went on.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WRIGHT: I want to apologize for my few months of temporary insanity supporting Donald Trump. God help our country if this man wins.

OVERBY: And she endorsed Cruz. Meanwhile, those Cruz super PACs in the new alliance have spent $22 million so far. That's according to the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. But then there's Keep the Promise II, which is not in the coalition. It's funded by Texas investor Toby Neugebauer. He gave $10 million. It's only spent one million. CNN reported that Keep the Promise II is holding back 'til the winner-take-all primaries this spring. But those primaries have already started. Again, Charles Spies from the Bush super PAC.

SPIES: If you are going to dedicate resources that way, it might have made sense to spend some money in Ohio, for example.

OVERBY: Ohio went for its governor, John Kasich. And Keep the Promise II is still sitting on $9 million. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.