Sometimes there is irony in politics that is just hard to miss. One of the major political ironies this year is that a Republican stalwart—Midland oilman Tim Dunn—helped Democrat Beto O’Rourke win a seat in Congress, and now Dunn’s money is being invested in a super PAC to keep O’Rourke from defeating incumbent Republican U.S. senator Ted Cruz.
The Dunn money revelation comes as Cruz is expected to release fundraising figures that show he raised $3.22 million during the first quarter of the year—less than half of the total his Democratic opponent has raised. The Cruz campaign is reporting that it has $8.19 million cash on hand, but the Republican’s numbers belie the fact that super PAC money still sits idle before the November election and the Cruz war chest may swell later this year. O’Rourke, of course, is telling voters he does not believe in super PACs that raise unlimited amounts of money in federal races and that he doesn’t have one. But campaign records show that a super PAC called the Campaign for Primary Accountability played a key role in O’Rourke defeating incumbent El Paso Congressman Sylvester Reyes in the 2012 Democratic primary.
Campaign for Primary Accountability was organized by Houston businessman Leo Linbeck III with a goal of defeating incumbents of both parties across the nation. Dunn, a supporter of term limits, was the committee’s second largest donor behind Linbeck, giving $500,000 to the effort. An El Paso development firm run by O’Rourke’s father-in-law, real estate developer Bill Sanders, donated $37,500 to the committee. Campaign for Primary Accountability spent $240,000 on advertising against Reyes, giving O’Rourke enough juice to win the primary.
Fast-forward to 2018 and O’Rourke’s current campaign to unseat Cruz. A new super PAC formed last year to help Cruz win reelection: Texans Are. Dunn on February 1 gave $100,000 to Texans Are. Out of the seven donors who have given about $1.7 million to the committee so far, only three are Texans. The committee also received $150,000 last year from one of the Cruz-for-president super PACs that is winding down its financing, Stand for Truth.
Cinemark Inc. owners Lee Roy and Tandy Mitchell are the largest donors to Texans Are, at $1 million. Lee Roy Mitchell gave $650,000 to Stand for Truth in 2016. The other Texas donor is oilman Dustin Bailey of Center, who donated $84,600 to Texans Are. He was not a major 2016 Cruz donor.
Turning out of state, Richard Uihlein, owner of U-Line Corp., gave $300,000 to Texans Are. Uihlein lives in Illinois, and his company is based in Wisconsin. He gave $1 million toward Cruz’s presidential run. Karen Wright, the president and CEO of Ariel Corp. in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, gave Texans Are $50,000. She donated $150,000 to a Cruz presidential super PAC. From Vero Beach, Florida, private equity billionaire John W. Childs donated $100,000 to Texans Are. Childs donated $250,000 to the Cruz presidential campaign.
If the Cruz-related Texans Are cranks up, it could offset O’Rourke’s current fundraising advantage. Legally, Texans Are cannot coordinate with the official Cruz reelection campaign, but it wouldn’t need to if it starts spending heavily on television advertising defining O’Rourke as out of touch with Texans—the very message that Cruz is promoting.
This post has been updated since publication.