Cruz: The GOP Primary's $50 Million Man
HOLLIS, N.H. — As the Republican race for president intensifies, Ted Cruz is hitting pay dirt -- even as more traditional party donors remain wary of him and have held off opening their wallets for the Texas senator.
Despite that handicap, Cruz has become an unlikely fundraising juggernaut of the GOP primary, and Wednesday he marked another milestone, announcing that his campaign has surpassed $50 million raised for the election cycle.
Cruz let the news slip during an interview with radio host Mark Levin, shortly after the conservative firebrand wrapped up an event here.
The rally, which capped off the candidate’s bus tour of New Hampshire, featured a new video depicting Cruz as an underdog who has beat the odds and pundits’ predictions to become a leading contender for his party’s nomination.
His campaign’s fundraising has reinforced those themes. Whereas Cruz’s potential to raise money was widely dismissed early on, particularly relative to that of more establishment-friendly candidates like Jeb Bush, he has married impressive grassroots donor support with a successful large-dollar operation. As the campaign has gained steam, so too has its fundraising apparatus.
“Now, all of a sudden, it’s a thousand times easier when the candidate has a real chance,” said Shelly Stein, the Dallas-based president and CEO of Glazer’s Distributors, who is a bundler for Cruz. “Most people now that I deal with think this is a two-person Republican race between [Donald] Trump and Cruz, and most people think Cruz has the upper hand.”
To date, roughly $13 million of the campaign’s money has come from large donations; another $37 million has been raised via a grassroots operation, including digital, phone and mail solicitations. Cruz’s feat is all the more unique because most of his bundlers — roughly 70 percent of his top 20, a campaign source estimated — had not previously raised money for a presidential campaign. The source was not authorized to speak on the record, but agreed to anonymously share details of Cruz’s fundraising operation with RealClearPolitics.
“When it comes to fundraising, I think one of the greatest surprises, from the perspective of the Washington chattering class, has been the incredible, astonishing fundraising that this campaign has benefited from,” Cruz said late last year.
A robust fundraising operation has been a key component of Cruz’s primary strategy. Noting the bare-bones infrastructure of conservative candidates in recent elections, Cruz has sought to project himself as the obvious unity candidate for conservative voters by forging a campaign more closely resembling that of an establishment frontrunner.
But the success has exceeded the campaign’s initial internal goal of $40 million for the primary. The current tally comprises 770,000 donations from more than 336,000 donors, who have contributed $66.13 on average, a campaign source confirmed.
Still, this achievement has not encouraged donors from Washington, D.C., to support Cruz, reflecting a fundamental distrust among many Republican Party leaders and on Capitol Hill. This week, former Sen. Bob Dole captured this angst when he said Cruz could be more damaging than Trump to the GOP as its nominee.
“A lot of donors are trying to figure their way into Trump’s orbit,” Spencer Zwick, the national finance chairman for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, recently told the Washington Post. “There is a growing feeling among many that he may be the guy, so people are certainly seeing if they can find a home over there.”
But the same cannot be said for Cruz, in spite of his recent surge. To date, there is not a single registered lobbyist among his bundlers, a campaign source confirmed, and he has only raised $78,000 in large-dollar donations from D.C., “all from [his] friends who are lawyers.”
“Ted could be moving into the White House before the lobbying community comes around,” the source said.
It is not for lack of connections. Cruz’s national finance director, Lauren Lofstrom, hails from establishment Republican circles: She worked under Haley Barbour at the Republican Governors Association, as deputy finance director for Rick Perry’s 2012 campaign, and for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Cruz had planned to hold a fundraiser in Washington on Friday, but the event will likely be preempted by the approach of a mammoth snowstorm.
Cruz has not only been successful raising money on the campaign side: He also boasts four super PACs supporting him, which have independently raised tens of millions of dollars. But campaign money is widely considered to be more valuable than super PAC money. The campaign controls it directly, and it can be used to purchase advertising at reduced cost relative to outside groups.
“We have a network in place with the resources required to win that is the envy of every other campaign,” Cruz’s campaign manager Jeff Roe wrote in a year-end memo touting the fourth-quarter haul.
It will not be known how Cruz’s fundraising stacks up to that by his competitors until the end of this month, when FEC reports are made public. However, campaigns typically announce some of the details early if the news is good; for this quarter, only Cruz’s and Ben Carson’s campaigns have hinted at their totals.
Carson would likely be the Republican candidate to come closest to matching Cruz’s fundraising haul for the cycle, if not exceed it. But the retired neurosurgeon’s campaign has also spent at a high rate, meaning Cruz would likely be left with the most cash on hand.
Indeed, low overhead has been one of the hallmarks of Cruz’s operation, and it is a selling point for many of the campaign’s major donors — particularly as they have watched other campaigns struggle to achieve the same.
Financial mismanagement was largely to blame for Scott Walker’s early departure from the race last year; by the time he dropped out, his campaign staff had swelled to rival Mitt Romney’s at the time he accepted his party’s nomination for president. At a few points during the election cycle, Jeb Bush’s campaign has slashed salaries of its staff or moved aides to key primary states to try to make better use of resources – and make ends meet.
But as Cruz’s polling and fundraising have been on the rise, his operation has not scaled up. Politico estimated Bush’s campaign spent $2 million on consulting services during the third quarter last year, including fundraising consultants; Cruz’s camp has not hired fundraising consultants and boasts an in-house fundraising team. Just nine cents of every dollar is spent on operation costs and salaries for major donor fundraising.
Cruz's team calculated at the beginning of the campaign that he would not be favored to win and took an underdog approach as a result. “We didn’t know what reaction we would get. We wanted to be lean,” said the campaign source.
Whereas the now-former finance chairman for Carson’s campaign raised eyebrows for taking a $20,000 monthly salary, Cruz’s national finance chairman, Willie Langston, is unpaid.
A sampling of Cruz’s bundlers who spoke with RealClearPolitics described a campaign that is focused, disciplined and even-keeled. One recent example involved a controversy that might have spooked other campaigns: Cruz’s opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard, a program that has boosted biofuels and is deeply popular in Iowa. Cruz’s stance was embraced by the campaign as an affirming moment.
"There is a high level of confidence in our candidate and a high level of confidence in the game plan,” said Bill Holmes, a Cruz bundler from Midland, Texas. “They’ve had a plan from the very beginning, and it’s worked."
Other donors seem to agree: The campaign announced bringing in $700,000 in the hours after Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad criticized Cruz’s stance on the RFS and urged Iowans not to support him.
Bundlers also speak glowingly of the operation’s personal touch, although it is not unusual for a campaign to dote on its biggest donors. Similar to other campaigns, Cruz’s staff sends donors brief email updates, hosts biweekly conference calls, and organizes quarterly retreats featuring panel discussions, campaign updates, and catered barbeque dinners. If donors have questions about Cruz’s policies or a recent statement he has made, the campaign typically responds within a few hours.
“I have not met any jerks on his campaign,” said Saul Gamoran, a Seattle-based bundler. “None.”
Any donor who brings in more than $25,000 is known by the campaign staff as well as Heidi Cruz, who has taken an unusually active role in raising money for her husband. Cruz’s wife, currently on leave from Goldman Sachs, is frequently cited by donors and aides as a key component of the fundraising operation, down to the smallest details: Heidi was the one who suggested the campaign refer to its bundlers as “investors.”
Gamoran hosted a fundraiser with Heidi Cruz in December and another with Ted Cruz earlier last year. He hardly fits the stereotype of a typical supporter: He has no Tea Party ties and is not a Christian conservative; indeed, he is Jewish. When he arrived with his wife to a donor retreat in Park City, Utah, last year, they were the sole Jewish couple there. But the campaign surprised them with kosher food brought in from Salt Lake City.
“We were really touched,” Gamoran said. “That’s the kind of attention to the personal connection that endears me to the campaign.”
Like other donors, Gamoran has also recently seen a spike in enthusiasm for Cruz, even in progressive Seattle. At some point, he reckons, more moderate Republicans will join their ranks.
“Once the more establishment Republicans are able to turn off the noise and read what he writes and listen to what he says,” Gamoran said, “I think they’re going to become more comfortable with him.”
This article was updated at 4:38 p.m. to clarify expenses vis a vis money raised from major donors.