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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Ted Cruz an ‘Outsider’ Like Sanders?

In his speech after losing the New York primary, Sen. Ted Cruz claimed that he and Sen. Bernie Sanders are “outsiders” who “don’t find our fuel in bundlers and special interests. But rather directly from the people.” But Cruz’s comparison to Sanders is a bit of a stretch.

  • Sanders opposes super PACs that can raise unlimited amounts of money from big donors. But five super PACs working to elect Cruz have raised more than $1 million each, including four Keep the Promise super PACs that have raised $42.8 million largely from a small number of big donors in the energy and finance industries.
  • Cruz’s national finance committee offers “bundling benefits” based on how much fundraisers bring in to the campaign. “Founders” who raise $500,000 receive among other benefits an “invitation to a special retreat” with Cruz and his wife. Other levels: statesmen ($250,000), generals ($100,000) and federalists ($50,000).
  • Small donors — those giving $200 or less — account for 34 percent of Cruz’s total campaign funds, as of Feb. 29. But Sanders has received 56 percent of his funds from small donors, and six other GOP candidates, including Donald Trump, have a higher percentage of small donors than Cruz.

Cruz compared himself to Sanders, the populist independent senator running for the Democratic nomination, in a concession speech in Philadelphia on the night of the New York primary. Cruz and Sanders lost in New York and are trailing their parties’ respective front-runners, Republican Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Cruz, April 19: This is the year of the outsider. I’m an outsider. Bernie Sanders is an outsider. Both with the same diagnosis. But both with very different paths to healing. Millions of Americans have chosen one of these outsiders. Our campaigns don’t find our fuel in bundlers and special interests. But rather directly from the people.

There are some similarities between Cruz and Sanders, neither of whom had much support of their respective party establishments. Both have received relatively little in contributions from political action committees. Sanders has received less than $4,000 from PACs, while Cruz has received about $60,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Neither has received bundled contributions from registered lobbyists, according to the Federal Election Commission database.

But there are significant differences between the two candidates, beginning with the support of super PACs.

Pro-Cruz Super PACs

Sanders has famously eschewed super PACs and criticized pro-Clinton super PACs that have accepted money from Wall Street interests. But Cruz has embraced super PACs.

As we have reported, Cruz has the support of a network of super PACs under the umbrella of Keep the Promise that have been largely funded by major donors:

How unusual are these large contributions to the pro-Cruz PACs? The Center for Responsive Politics ranks the top donors to outside committees and three of the top five are donors to pro-Cruz PACs: Mercer ranks No. 1; Farris and JoAnn Wilks rank third; and Neugebauer ranks fourth.

Super PACs cannot coordinate with campaign committees, but there is no doubt that the millions they raise and spend on a candidate’s behalf are enormously helpful. In fact, the outside groups supporting Cruz have almost raised as much money ($53 million) as the candidate’s committee ($67 million), according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Cruz Bundlers

Cruz also has an elaborate bundling system to raise money for his campaign committee.

The Associated Press last year wrote a story on Cruz’s campaign fundraising that said the campaign was offering “coveted access” to Cruz and his wife, Heidi, for fundraisers who raise $500,000 or more. These fundraisers are known as “bundlers” because they raise money from others on behalf of the campaign.

Associated Press, April 14, 2015: Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign is asking top allies to collect at least $500,000 each from their circle of friends and colleagues and is promising those elite fundraisers coveted access.

The Texas Republican’s finance team says the best fundraisers will be invited to a donor retreat and a quarterly dinner at the home of Ted and Heidi Cruz. Those supporters will be called the campaign’s founders.

Other levels inside Cruz’s campaign hierarchy include statesmen ($250,000), generals ($100,000) and federalists ($50,000), according to a fundraising document obtained by The Associated Press.

The Daily Caller posted the campaign’s fundraising document online. It lists “bundling benefits” that vary depending on how much the bundler raises. The statesmen, who are required to raise $250,000, would be invited to the donor retreat but not the quarterly dinners at the Cruz home.

Cruz also has bundlers for smaller donations – a social crowd-funding operation that the campaign calls CruzCrowd. The Washington Post writes, “As with high-dollar bundlers, CruzCrowd participants have the chance to climb tiers based on their fundraising totals. Everyone who signs up starts as a Colonist, then reaches Delegate after raising $1,000 and Signer after raising $5,000. The top tier, Federalist, requires collecting $10,000.”

The campaign posted a link to another Post article on its website with the headline, “Washington Post: Cruz’s secret fundraising strength: A network of wealthy donors.” That story compared Cruz not to Sanders but to President Obama.

Washington Post, Oct. 26, 2015: The structure of his donor base closely resembles that of President Obama, whose vaunted fundraising operation intensely focused on low-dollar givers as well as major bundlers, bringing in a record $783 million for his 2012 reelection.

But unlike Obama — or Clinton — the Texas senator as far as we can tell has not released his list of top bundlers. Cruz had said in a CNN interview in August of last year that he would release a list of major bundlers. “The names of our bundlers are not terribly secret given our fundraising events. The invites are all public, or quasi-public, or e-mailed out,” Cruz told CNN.

But we could not find a list of Cruz’s top bundlers, and the Cruz campaign did not get back to us when we asked for one. In March, the Cruz campaign did post names of new finance committee members who joined his team from other campaigns, including from the Jeb Bush campaign. If we get a list of his top bundlers, we will post it on our website.

Hillary Clinton lists on her website the names of her bundlers who raised $100,000 or more — a group she calls “Hillblazers.”

Small Donors

One measure of a candidate’s populist appeal is the percentage of small donations that a campaign receives. By small, we are talking about donors who gave $200 or less. Any amount above that must be itemized, meaning the campaign must disclose the person’s name, address and occupation.

As of Feb. 29, Sanders — who has been the butt of jokes for repeatedly saying his average donation is $27 — has received $76.7 million in small donations. That accounts for 56 percent of his campaign funds, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute.

By comparison, the Cruz campaign has received $21.4 million in small donations, accounting for 34 percent of his total fundraising haul. Cruz is closer to Clinton (21 percent) than Sanders (56 percent).

Cruz’s percentage of funds from small donors also lags six other current and former Republican candidates, including Trump. The New York businessman has raised $6.9 million in small donations, representing 74 percent of his total fundraising amount, the analysis showed. Trump is an outlier because he has loaned his campaign $17.5 million, as of Jan. 31, and relies less on donations.

Several former GOP candidates also had a higher percentage of their campaign funds from small donors than Cruz: Ben Carson (50 percent), Sen. Rand Paul (44 percent), Carly Fiorina (43 percent), Mike Huckabee (42 percent) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (37 percent).

On the opposite end of the fundraising spectrum, there are those donors who “max out” to a candidate’s campaign committee by giving the maximum amount of $2,700 per election. By that measure, 16 percent of Cruz’s money has come from donors who “maxed out,” compared with only 3 percent for Sanders.

When it comes to raising campaign funds, Cruz is no Bernie Sanders, despite his claim that he and Sanders “don’t find our fuel in bundlers and special interests. But rather directly from the people.”

Correction, April 22: This story originally said the Cruz campaign had received $17.4 million in small donations, accounting for 28 percent of his total campaign funds through Feb. 29, based on an analysis by the Campaign Finance Institute. It also said that 22 percent of Cruz’s donors had “maxed out.” But CFI had an error in its calculations. The Cruz campaign actually received $21.4 million in small donations, or 34 percent of its total, and 16 percent of Cruz donors gave the $2,700 maximum. We have updated our story to reflect the accurate figures.

Brendan Glavin of the Campaign Finance Institute told us that the error occurred when CFI downloaded an amended quarterly report filed by the Cruz campaign on July 20, 2015. That report contained an error. The Cruz campaign mistakenly reported $0 in unitemized contributions for that quarter. The campaign filed a second amended report on Sept. 3, 2015, to correct that error, but CFI did not download that report or update its data until it reviewed its figures at our request. We regret the error and thank the Cruz campaign for contacting us.