If you’ve seen the face of one of the Republican candidates for U.S. Representative of District 27 juxtaposed with a baby’s bottom or his head adorned with a laurel crown like Julius Caesar, you’re not alone.
Super PACs out of Washington, D.C., have spent more than half a million dollars to get as many eyeballs as they can on ads that disparage Bech Bruun before early voting starts Monday in the primary runoff between Bruun and Michael Cloud.
PACs, or political action committees, allow a wealthy few to influence the outcome of elections, and they do the dirty work so the candidates of their choice don’t have to. The super PAC bankrolling most of the ads in favor of Cloud is the Club for Growth Action.
While individuals can donate only $2,700 to candidates per election, PACs offer a way around that. Individuals can donate an unlimited amount to PACs to spend on elections. And as long as the PAC doesn’t coordinate with the candidates, they don’t have to list the PAC as a contributor with the Federal Election Commission.
Cloud confirmed to the Advocate that his campaign has not coordinated with these Super PACs. He said he often learns about the ads they have run “thirdhand.”
Political scientists say super PACs are particularly motivated to get involved in District 27 because so many seats are open this election. The political scientists say the Club for Growth Action has recognized that this is an opportunity that doesn’t come around often.
“Take Congressman (Blake) Farenthold. I think even people being charitable would say he was not the most effective member of Congress nor the most well-liked, yet he was consistently able to win re-election,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. “That just underscores the fact that whoever wins this race, be it Michael Cloud or Bech Bruun, is likely to be in that position for a while.”
The Club for Growth Action is supporting 15 congressional candidates. Two others besides Cloud are running to represent Texans.
Its president, David McIntosh, said it has 300,000 members nationwide who donate so it can get more fiscal conservatives in Washington, D.C. But according to its filings with the FEC, only 175 people were responsible for raising more than $8.3 million for the Club for Growth Action from Jan. 1, 2017, to March 31. Only about 10 percent of those donors were from Texas.
Bruun said this shows the hypocrisy of the Club for Growth Action painting him as “swamp creature.”
It is hammering him in particular for being a longtime government employee and not supporting term limits. While neither of these statements is false, they don’t offer the full picture, he said. For example, he supports calling a conference of states to put to a vote changing the U.S. Constitution regarding term limits.
“Accusing me of being a swamp creature means they are lodging the same type of allegations against people like Greg Abbott and Rick Perry, who I am very proud to work for and (have) served under and who I think many Texans are darn proud to have as their conservative leaders,” Bruun said.
Cloud, meanwhile, said his campaign continues to focus on the needs of the residents of District 27 and downplayed the Super PAC’s support.
“I think it’s really important for people to understand that this is a very new development in this campaign as of maybe two weeks ago, but the way that we’ve gotten to this point is in the primary, we were outspent 3 to 1 by a candidate backed by special interest groups,” Cloud said. “Do you want a candidate that is going to serve the people of this district or to serve special interests?”
Records show that before the March 6 primary, Bruun raised $187,000 more than Cloud, who is a small business owner.
Political scientists say the Club for Growth Action’s financially supporting Cloud has made up this deficit and portraying Cloud as a running mate to President Donald Trump can only help him.
This is because voter turnout will likely be even less for the May 22 runoff than it was for the primary election. According to the Secretary of State, voter turnout in Victoria, the second most populous county in the district, was 15 percent for the primary.
“And my guess is those who do vote are going to be the hardcore Republican supporters that are more likely to support President Trump as opposed to more moderate Republicans who are opposed to him,” said Craig Goodman, a political science professor at the University of Houston-Victoria.
History has shown the Club for Growth Action’s tactics are effective.
In 2012, it spent almost $5 million opposing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in his bid for U.S. Senate. Ted Cruz defeated Dewhurst by a 14-point margin.
The Club for Growth Action interviewed Bruun and Cloud before deciding whom to endorse in the runoff, the PAC’s president said.
McIntosh said the PAC ruled out Bruun after he said he’d support a spending bill like the recent omnibus if that’s what the Republican leadership wanted him to do. He said the Club for Growth’s ads have focused on Bruun not supporting term limits because it knows that’s an issue voters care about.
“It symbolizes whether a candidate wants to come up and change Washington and leave or come up to Washington and be a part of the problem over the years,” he said. “We know that people want their congressman to speak up and say, ‘Hey, we didn’t send you there to keep up the Obama spending. We sent you there to make changes.’”