Ted Cruz spends three days a week hosting his podcast, Verdict With Ted Cruz. He and cohost Ben Ferguson spend a few hours a week “break[ing] down the most important news stories of the day and reveal[ing] what they mean for you” on the show, which is produced by San Antonio–based radio and podcast company IHeartMedia. When he’s not busy with his podcasting duties, the Houston-based attorney has a side hustle in the U.S. Senate. 

Watchdog groups have raised ethical concerns about the confluence of these two gigs. Senate rules and federal law prevent members from accepting gifts from lobbyists, and IHeartMedia has been registered as one since 2002. Cruz serves on the Senate Commerce Committee, which regulates the communications industry, of which IHeart is a part. 

The company produces and provides advertising for Cruz’s show, which ethics groups have argued constitutes a gift to the senator worth, potentially, millions of dollars. Cruz has rejected those complaints, responding that he receives no salary for the podcast, and thus his appearance on the show that he hosts and which bears his name is no different from his popping into Meet the Press to discuss issues before the American people. Your view of the credibility of that claim is probably influenced by how closely your political views align with those of the junior senator. (As a thought exercise, imagine hearing that New York Democratic representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had offered the same explanation.) 

New reporting has found that IHeart also gave six-figure donations to the Truth and Courage PAC, whose stated purpose is “supporting Ted Cruz’s re-election to the U.S. Senate.” On March 20, Forbes noted that the political action committee reported a donation of $215,000 from IHeartMedia. This morning the Houston Chronicle reported that that was just the most recent of the communication company’s contributions; between March 1, 2023, and February 15 of this year, IHeart gave the political action committee $630,000. The payments, the company’s vice president of public relations told Forbes, are “associated with” the advertising the company sells on the podcast.

It’s unclear if the generous contributions from IHeartMedia constitute an ethical violation. When Cruz first struck a deal with the company, a Senate Ethics Committee investigation found that he had not violated any laws. In a statement on the newest reporting, a Cruz representative decried new complaints as “lazy attacks during an election year.” 

The podcast, which sits at number 62 on Apple’s “News” charts—just behind one hosted by former Mitt Romney foreign policy adviser Dan Senor—will presumably continue under its current arrangement.