Texas Senate race gets uglier

A super PAC supporting Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the GOP establishment favorite in the upcoming Senate primary, funded attack ads that link tea party favorite Ted Cruz to a criminal.

The battle between two Republicans for the open U.S. Senate seat in Texas is becoming increasingly ugly with super PACs doing much of the dirty work.

The Texas Conservatives Fund, a super PAC supporting Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, is running an ad that features a mother whose son committed suicide after a stay at a for-profit juvenile detention facility, the developer of which Cruz, Dewhurst’s opponent, defended in court.

The ad, released Monday, is called “Ted Cruz Should Be Ashamed.”

Dewhurst and tea party-favorite Cruz, the state’s former solicitor general, face off again on July 31 since neither candidate was able to win a majority in last May’s primary.

The new ad refers to Cruz’s legal representation of Robert Mericle, a developer involved in the “kids for cash” scandal in Pennsylvania in 2008. Two judges were accused of accepting bribes from Mericle to send children to his facilities.

Mericle pled guilty to concealing evidence of a felony, according to news reports.

By linking Cruz, a high-profile appellate lawyer, to Mericle, the ad is somewhat misleading. According to both Cruz’s campaign website and news reports, Cruz represented Mericle in a civil suit over breach of contract with an insurance company, which was refusing to pay to help settle civil claims resulting from the scandal, the Texas Tribune reported.

Cruz was not involved in the criminal case against Mericle.

The kids-for-cash scandal has nonetheless become a flashpoint in the runoff election.

No Principles,” an ad from the Texas Conservatives Fund released July 17, also makes use of the Cruz-Mericle connection. One day later, Dewhurst’s campaign released “Cash for Cruz,” a radio ad repeating the claims. Dewhurst’s campaign has aired several other ads along the same lines.

The Texas Conservatives Fund is bankrolled by a handful of big donors. Harold Simmons, the CEO of Contran Corp. and one of the biggest donors to super PACs in the country, has given $1 million to the group. Bob Perry, a Texas homebuilder and also a top super PAC donor, has given $400,000, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

To date, the super PAC has reported spending $3.7 million opposing Cruz and is the primary outside spender supporting Dewhurst’s run.

Countering the pro-Dewhurst super PAC are super PACs the Senate Conservatives FundClub for Growth Action and FreedomWorks for America, which have spent a combined $5.6 million opposing Dewhurst and supporting Cruz, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In other outside spending news:

  • Conservative nonprofit Crossroads GPS released “Suffered” Monday, an ad opposing President Barack Obama. Its sister super PAC American Crossroads reported Monday spending nearly $594,000 on web ads opposing Obama.
  • Another conservative nonprofit, American Commitment, began airing radio ads in Iowa, Missouri and Oklahoma opposing the farm bill being debated in Congress and Reps. Steve King, R-Iowa, Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., on the Agriculture Committee who supported it. The ad buy cost $75,000 according to a press release.
  • House Majority PAC, a pro-House Democrats super PAC along, with unions SEIU and AFSCME produced “Independence,” an ad supporting Christie Vilsack’s run for Democratic congresswoman from Iowa’s 4th District. Vilsack is a literacy advocate and former first lady of Iowa.
  • Majority PAC, a pro-Senate  Democrat super PAC, and Patriot Majority USA, a pro-Democrat super PAC, released three new ads: “Street Signs,” opposing GOP senatorial candidates Eric Hovde and Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin; “Trusted, opposing Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., who’s running for Senate; and “Big Spender” opposing former Virginia GOP Sen. George Allen’s run for Senate.
  • Super PAC Prosperity for Michigan dropped more than $288,000 on TV, management and strategy on July 21, FEC filings Monday show. The super PAC’s spending goes to support Republican Clark Durant’s run for U.S. Senate in Michigan. Durant is the co-founder of a group of charter and independent schools in inner-city Detroit.
  • Americans for Prosperity Virginia, a tea-party aligned nonprofit, released “The Power of the Purse,” on Monday. The short video, aimed at women voters, talks about the burden of taxes on food, gas and homes, as well as regulatory threats coal plants face.
  • Club for Growth Action began airing “File,” an ad attacking Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. The ad tells voters, “It’s time to close the file on Paul Gosar.”
  • The Republican National Committee debuted “These Aren’t Gaffes,” an anti-Obama ad. It is unclear where these ads are airing.

About the author

Rachael Marcus is a reporter with the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit, non-partisan independent investigative news outlet, which contributes campaign finance coverage to Marketplace. For more of their reporting on money and politics go to publicintegrity.org.

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