By: Jamie Lovegrove
WASHINGTON — The 2018 Senate election in Texas remains more than 16 months away, but Rep. Beto O’Rourke picked up his first major organizational endorsement Monday in his long-shot bid to challenge Sen. Ted Cruz.
End Citizens United PAC, a progressive group focused on reducing the role of money in politics with 3 million members across the country, threw its support behind the El Paso Democrat, choosing O’Rourke as the first Senate challenger the group is endorsing in the 2018 cycle.
“Our decision to endorse Beto was an easy one,” Tiffany Muller, the PAC’s president and executive director, said in a written statement. “He stands as a progressive champion and the future of our party with a determined focus to give the people a voice in our democracy. He’s running against the worst of Washington in Senator Ted Cruz, who has sold out Texans for the special interests at every opportunity.”
For O’Rourke, picking up the backing of a well-funded group like End Citizens United is particularly critical given his marked disadvantage in the money race against Cruz.
After running for president last year, Cruz has many prominent conservative donors behind him and started his re-election bid with more than $5 million in the bank at the end of March. O’Rourke, by contrast, had just $535,000 to his name, a tenth of Cruz’s war chest.
The second quarter of 2017 ends later this week and will provide a more current snapshot of where the money divide stands in the race.
End Citizens United raised $4 million in the first three months of 2017 and projects it will raise $35 million for the 2018 midterm elections. The group spent $25 million on the 2016 cycle, its first election since forming the year before.
Most recently, the group raised $1.4 million to support Democrat Jon Ossoff in a special election for a House seat in Georgia. Ossoff lost the race last week to Republican Karen Handel, but he set congressional fundraising records along the way, raising a total of $23 million.
“I’m running to represent people, not corporations or special interests,” O’Rourke said in a written statement. “That’s why I don’t take PAC money, and it’s why I’m grateful to have the support of End Citizens United. Together we’re going to take back Texas, take back the Senate and — most importantly — take back our democracy.”
O’Rourke’s longstanding commitment to not take PAC money does limit the help End Citizens United can provide because the group will not be able to contribute to the campaign. He introduced a bill — the No PAC Act — shortly before launching his campaign that would prevent all congressional candidates from accepting money from PACs, though the legislation is not expected to move forward.
But Adam Bozzi, a spokesman for the PAC, said it will direct its 157,000 members in Texas and 330,000 donors around the country to contribute to O’Rourke’s campaign. The average contribution from the group’s small-dollar donors is $14.
The group may also spend independently on O’Rourke next year, as it has done for other candidates, by running TV ads or distributing mailers in Texas — though it will not be able to coordinate the messaging for those ads with O’Rourke’s campaign.
The decision to support O’Rourke early in the cycle and before their other endorsements indicates how significant the Texan will be to the group’s plans in 2018, Bozzi told The Dallas Morning News. But organizers are waiting to see how the political landscape looks closer to next year’s election before dividing resources.
Cruz, along with Texas colleague Sen. John Cornyn, spent this weekend at a summit in Colorado Springs with the network of conservative donors overseen by the Koch brothers.
Contrary to O’Rourke’s efforts to place greater restrictions on political fundraising, Cruz has moved in the opposite direction, calling for campaign donation limits to be abolished. The Texas Republican argues that pairing unlimited contributions directly to campaigns with immediate disclosure rules will eliminate the need for super PACs.
A spokeswoman for Cruz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.