The super PACs behind Ted Cruz’s fundraising juggernaut

Ted Cruz. (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

There are eight active super PACs supporting Ted Cruz, more than any other candidate.1 That’s more pro-Cruz super PACs than there are Harry Potter books, or Star Wars movies. There are two Ted Cruz super PACs for every member of One Direction. And all these super PACs have raised a lot of cash — over $47 million. But despite all the momentum and all the money, it’s been a bumpy ride for these groups; total spending amounts to just $24 million of that, according to the most recent reports. Some have yet to spend much of their vast resources; the confusing array of organizations has reportedly discouraged big donors from contributing, and some smaller groups have folded completely. We have tried our very best to create a comprehensive guide to these super PACs, who’s behind them, and what they’re doing, and we’ll update it if another group pops up.

The expansive Keep the Promise network

There are five different super PACs with “Keep the Promise” in their name: Keep the Promise PAC; Keep the Promise I, II, and III; and Keep the Promise to Veterans, which formed just this month. At least three of these super PACs are associated with Dathan Voelter, a longtime Cruz friend and Texas accountant — he’s the treasurer for both Keep the Promise PAC and Keep the Promise II, and Keep the Promise III uses the same address. They’re also coordinating with Keep the Promise I, but that group lists an accountant named Jacquelyn James of New York as its treasurer. The strategy behind having these various groups seems to be to allow individual donors to have greater control over how their money is spent.

Before we dig in, a quick cheat sheet:

* Keep the Promise PAC: Broader base of donors; treasurer is Dathan Voelter; * Keep the Promise I: $11 million from Robert Mercer; most independent expenditures made at $7 million; * Keep the Promise II: $10 million from Tony Neugebauer; comparatively little activity; * Keep the Promise III: $15 million from the Wilks family; evangelical ties; * Keep the Promise to Veterans: Only just created; tied to Rick Perry.

Keep the Promise PAC

Total raised: $3,682,164 | Total spent: $2,590,242 | Cash on hand: $1,165,262

Unlike Keep the Promise I, II and III, Keep the Promise PAC isn’t set up with one large contribution from a big donor, but it did receive several smaller-but-still-huge checks from a handful of very wealthy individuals. The biggest donation, $1 million, came from businessman and Tea Party megadonor Richard Uihlein. Robert McNair, owner of the Houston Texans, contributed $500,000. (It appears McNair was hedging his bets since he also gave $500,000 each to Right to Rise, Security is Strength, and Unintimidated PAC — the super PACs supporting Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham and Scott Walker, respectively.) Other big donations came from private equity and investment managers: John W. Childs, one of the biggest donors to conservative super PACs in 2012, gave $250,000; Robert Arnott, CEO of an investment management firm called Research Affiliates, gave $350,000; and Thomas Patrick, chair of the investment management firm New Vernon Capital, gave $250,000.

Curiously, Keep the Promise PAC also received $200,000 from Keep the Promise III on June 8; then, on Sept. 28, Keep the Promise PAC sent $200,000 back to Keep the Promise III. Why? Your guess is as good as ours.

Keep the Promise PAC has made $1,126,487 in independent expenditures supporting Ted Cruz — including $775,679 on radio ads. They’ve also spent on direct mail, signs and T-shirts.

Keep the Promise I

Total raised: $11,052,455 | Total spent: $9,734,445 | Cash on hand: $2,745,909

Keep the Promise I is almost entirely funded by a single donation of $11 million from Robert Mercer. Mercer, CEO of Renaissance Technologies, made his millions writing computer algorithms for Wall Street. His firm was investigated by a Senate committee in 2014 for allegedly failing to pay $6 billion in taxes. He has made tens of millions of dollars in political donations over the years, along with his daughter Rebekah, some of which went to some pretty fringe figures: Bloomberg reports that “Mercer money also found its way to an Idaho activist named Fred Kelly Grant, who travels the country encouraging legal challenges to environmental laws, which he says are part of a sinister plot by the United Nations to depopulate rural America.”

Mercer also owns a firm called Cambridge Analytica, which creates “psychological profiles” of voters using Facebook data and which has been paid $5,183,647 by the Cruz campaign and Keep the Promises I and II.

Keep the Promise I also made a $500,000 donation to Carly Fiorina’s super PAC, which confused the FEC as much as anyone else. Its president told CBS News that “Keep the Promise I made the donation in June to Ms. Fiorina at that time because we thought she had important things to say that weren’t being heard, including her poignant and effective criticism of Mrs. Clinton, at the time, the likely Democratic nominee.”

Keep the Promise I has made the most in independent expenditures of all the Cruz super PACs so far. It has spent more than $7 million, mostly on media production and on direct mail.

Keep the Promise II

Total raised: $10,000,000 | Total spent: $704,182 | Cash on hand: $9,295,817

Keep the Promise II has had absolutely zero revenue other than an initial $10 million donation from Toby Neugebauer. Neugebauer is a wealthy energy investor and the son of Texas representative Randy Neugebauer, who will retire this year.

Unlike the other Keep the Promise groups, Keep the Promise II has not made any independent expenditures. CNN reported in October 2015 that the group wasn’t planning on reserving any ad time until March or April, and suggested some controversy about a planned ad buy:

The group was intended to be the main super PAC that purchased television spots, while the other two groups focused on radio and digital advertising. But right after Neugebauer, a controversial figure in some Cruz circles, delivered a PowerPoint presentation to Cruz donors during an exclusive campaign retreat at The Broadmoor resort this summer in Colorado, he abruptly pulled back on a planned major television campaign.

The buy, which would have been for a substantial series of 9,600 60-second biographical spots, or a biopic, across South Carolina. … The source said the sudden decision came after a non-profit affiliated with Marco Rubio’s campaign made its own purchase, jacking up television rates statewide. Other sources dispute that, saying the abandoned TV campaign was scuttled by legal questions about the perception of coordinating with the campaign.

This is especially interesting given that the group has spent $117,070 on “media production services.” So it has spent money to produce media — perhaps ads of some sort? — but not actually run any explicit pro-Cruz ads at all yet. The only other significant spending is $570,000 to Robert Mercer’s Cambridge Analytica for “campaign research services.”

Keep the Promise III

Total raised: $15,988,899 | Total spent: $4,924,266 | Cash on hand: $11,149,923

Keep the Promise III has deep ties to evangelical Christian groups. It’s funded almost entirely by a total of $15 million from various members of the Wilks family. Dan and Farris Wilks are Texas-based billionaire brothers who made their money in fracking, after inheriting their father’s masonry business. They own hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Montana and Idaho. CNN reported that their “eventual pledge to Cruz was driven by his emphasis on preserving Christian organizations’ ability to operate amid cultural victories for the left.”

Though its address is the same P.O. Box that Voelter’s groups use, the group’s treasurer is Jon Francis, a member of the Wilks family and the manager of their philanthropic giving for the family’s Thirteen Foundation. The Thirteen Foundation has given millions to many “aggressive” right-wing groups, including anti-LGBT rights efforts and Tea Party organizations.

Keep the Promise III has paid a group called Red Metrics $4,460,000 for media, though it has only made $756,906 in independent expenditures. Red Metrics was founded by leadership (described as having “very limited campaign experience” by CNN) from Online For Life, an anti-abortion group. It also paid a total of $20,000 to the Newsboys, a notable Christian rock band that performed at a rally and fundraiser held by Keep the Promise PAC, at which Cruz appeared. (A reminder: super PACs are not supposed to coordinate their activities with campaigns at all.)

Keep the Promise to Veterans

Total raised: N/A | Total spent: N/A | Cash on hand: N/A

This is the newest pro-Cruz super PAC, created on Feb. 11, 2016. The PAC will organize veterans to support Cruz and has already recruited some big names, including former Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry. It’s possible that it will be funded by Perry donor Doug Deason, who has considered forming a new super PAC to support Cruz. Its statement of organization lists it as affiliated with Keep the Promise PAC, Keep the Promise II and Keep the Promise III, but, oddly enough, not Keep the Promise I. If it’s filing monthly, we should get the first financial reports in mid-March.

The rest of the pro-Cruz super PACs

The Keep the Promise groups aren’t the only groups supporting Cruz, however. There has also been significant money spent by at least four other groups who don’t seem to be affiliated with the Keep the Promise teams.

Stand ForTruth, Inc.

Total raised: $4,931,430 | Total spent: $5,919,799 | Cash on hand: $1,230,995

Stand ForTruth (yes, one word) was formed in November 2015. It is not affiliated with Keep the Promise, but CNN reported that Keep the Promise was aware of Stand ForTruth’s advertising plans before those were announced, so perhaps there’s some coordination happening. It’s chaired by Eric Lycan, who previously worked for Mitch McConnell.

Stand ForTruth has made the second-most independent expenditures of the Cruz groups at $5,777,782 so far. Many of the ads it has run have been negative spots against Rubio or Trump, such as this recent one criticizing Rubio for planning to work with liberals on immigration.

Much of Stand ForTruth’s money came from difficult-to-trace companies, including $250,000 from various LLCs linked to a healthcare company CEO named Ben Klein based in Illinois. In January, Klein gave another $250,000. Another significant contributor is Trinity Equity, who gave $1 million, linked to William Van Loh, a Houston investor and former colleague of Toby Neugebauer.

Other big donors include Adam and Tara Ross, who each donated $500,000. Adam Ross is a longtime friend of Cruz and member of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Courageous Conservatives

Total raised: $243,250 | Total spent: $301,557 | Cash on hand: $5,156

Courageous Conservatives was formed in September 2015. Its consultant, Rick Shaftan, is a controversial figure: He was fired by Rep. Steve Lonegan, R-N.J., after going on an explicit rant saying Democratic Sen. Cory Booker’s Twitter messages to a stripper were “like what a gay guy would say.” He criticized the ads being run by Keep the Promise groups as “boring,” and Courageous Conservatives made independent expenditures against Rubio before any other Cruz group or the Cruz campaign did so (which it’s now doing without abandon). Just last week, the group was discovered to be running robocall ads in South Carolina that attack Donald Trump for not supporting the confederate flag. (Also, one time the group misspelled the word “country” in an anti-Rubio ad.)

Courageous Conservatives has already spent $117,000 this year; it only spent $141,607 in the last six months of 2015. Almost all of its money has gone to independent expenditures — $429,880 either supporting Ted Cruz or opposing Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and Donald Trump, leaving the committee with debts of over $91,000.

Most of its money has come from two people: Stan Herzog and Christopher Ekstrom. Herzog, who gave $135,000, owns a construction company and was named one of the top 20 donors in Missouri last year by the Kansas City Star. Ekstrom, who gave $67,000 plus about $35,000 in loans, is an investor in Dallas, and this charming exchange on Cruz’s Facebook page shows he’s been a supporter for years.

Stand for Principle

Total raised: $252,721 | Total spent: $263,751 | Cash on hand: $135,380

Stand for Principle is an odd group. It has been active since 2014, and claimed in March 2015 that it wanted to raise $50 million. So far, it has raised barely over $250,000. Almost all of Stand for Principle’s money comes from one donor: Ben Nash, the co-founder of PCS Wireless, who donated $250,000 through an LLC. When asked about the donation, a spokesperson said that “Senator Cruz has been a strong supporter of Jewish issues, and this was the basis for the donation.” The group has made no independent expenditures; most of the money has been spent on consulting and “media.” The group paid $99,036 to The Strollo Group, which is owned by the PAC’s chairwoman, Maria Strollo Zack. Stand for Principle is still filing quarterly, unlike most of the other super PACs, so we won’t get its next report until April 15. Unless it sees a major influx of cash, it probably won’t hit that $50 million goal, though.

Americans for Cruz

Total raised: $? | Total spent: $? | Cash on hand: N/A

Americans For Cruz was formed on Dec. 31, 2015, allegedly spent $200,000 on voter phone calls and then shut down. Part of the reason may have been it broke FEC rules; a super PAC can’t use the name of candidate in its own name, and the group received a warning from the FEC about just that. Except it’s not clear whether Americans For Cruz even spent that money — it later filed amendments with the FEC saying the group was shutting down and therefore had never spent the money.

This group is NOT to be confused with Americans For a Constitutional Republic United Zestfully, or “Americans For A CRUZ,” which was formed in November. It still exists, but never filed its year-end report.

Take Back DC Action (formerly Draft Ted Cruz)

Total raised: $341,068 | Total spent: $383,376 | Cash on hand: N/A

Draft Ted Cruz was formed in 2014, more than a year before Cruz announced his run for the presidency, by a former Cruz staffer. When Cruz announced, it had to change its name because of the aforementioned rule against a super PAC containing the name of a candidate, so the super PAC became Take Back DC Action. The group disbanded on Sept. 23, 2015.

During the 2016 cycle, it paid $62,770 to a direct mail fundraising firm called HSP Direct and spent $22,013 on postage for direct mail. Around $216,741 was spent on various direct mail costs, but none of that was categorized as independent expenditures. The group’s 2014 expenses were also mostly on direct mail and fundraising.


1 While other super PACs supporting Ted Cruz do exist — such as Jruz PAC and Crusaders PAC — these groups have spent very little or nothing at all, and have no connection with the more active groups, as is the case with Keep the Promise to Veterans. (Back to top ↑)