Ted Cruz Faces FEC Complaint Over Podcast Dumping Money Into Super PAC

Ted Cruz’s sketchy podcast deal may now face federal scrutiny, as a campaign finance watchdog filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday over radio giant iHeartMedia funneling more than $630,000 into a super PAC backing the Republican senator’s re-election bid.

The complaint, filed jointly by the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and End Citizens United, argued that the agreement between the Texas senator and iHeartMedia “brazenly” violates federal election laws. They also accused Cruz of directing funds into the Truth and Courage PAC, which describes itself as “ensuring that Ted Cruz is re-elected to the United States Senate in 2024.”

The filing also comes as campaign finance and government ethics experts recently told The Daily Beast that the podcast deal raises a slew of sticky legal and ethical issues, and at the very least signals the GOP lawmaker “characteristically darkening the gray area” and testing legal limits.

At the heart of the matter is The Verdict, a podcast the senator first launched in late 2020. Cruz eventually partnered with iHeartMedia in October 2022 to produce and distribute the show, which the senator described as a “big damn deal.”

The CLC soon after filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee over the senator receiving gifts from iHeartMedia, a registered lobbyist. In the end, both Cruz and iHeartMedia claimed that the senator wasn’t getting compensated and the complaint was dropped.

Last month, however, alarm bells were once again sounded over the podcast deal when Truth and Courage’s FEC reports showed that iHeartMedia had dumped more than $630,000 worth of “digital revenue” into the PAC’s coffers over the past year, accounting for roughly a third of its cash raised. A spokesperson for the radio company said the payments were “associated with” advertising sales for Cruz’s podcast, once again insisting the lawmaker has merely volunteered his time to the thrice-weekly podcast and is not actually paid to host.

“The terms of iHeartMedia’s podcast agreement with Cruz are not public, and the company’s recent comments do not explain why it is sending money derived from ad sales associated with Cruz’s podcast to a super PAC supporting Cruz’s 2024 reelection campaign,” stated the FEC complaint filed on Tuesday. “The most reasonable and logical inference to be drawn from these circumstances, however, is that Cruz requested or directed, and iHeartMedia agreed, that iHeartMedia would transmit these funds to TCP, which then would use the funds to support Cruz’s candidacy.”

Federal rules dictate that a candidate or officeholder cannot “solicit, receive, direct, transfer, or spend funds” in connection with a federal election outside of the limits and reporting requirements of election law. Additionally, the law bans coordination between candidates and super PACs, which are able to raise unlimited amounts of money to support groups or individuals.

The two watchdogs have urged the FEC to open a probe into the deal, and they called on regulators to impose harsh penalties if Cruz and iHeartMedia are found to have skirted campaign finance laws.

Photograph of Ted Cruz speaking.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), pictured here, was indignant when confronted last week about a questionable podcast deal.

Getty

“By soliciting or directing $630,850.09 of iHeartMedia’s corporate funds to or on behalf of TCP in connection with his 2024 election, Cruz appears to have brazenly violated these federal campaign finance laws, which are crucial to preventing real and apparent corruption in our federal elections, as well as promoting voters’ right to having a meaningful electoral voice through the democratic process,” the complaint added.

Campaign Legal Center’s Senior Director of Campaign Finance Erin Chlopak said in a statement that there’s “a reason why federal candidates are legally prohibited from using ‘soft money’—that is, money raised outside the scope of federal election law—to power their campaigns.”

Chlopak continued: “This type of funding risks putting the priorities of wealthy special interests above everyone else and makes our political process more vulnerable to corruption. Yet all available information makes it seem that a partnership between Texas Senator Ted Cruz and iHeartMedia has produced such an illegal transfer, with over $630,000 in ‘income’ from Cruz’s podcast moving to a super PAC supporting his reelection. To give Texas voters clarity, the Federal Election Commission must swiftly investigate this matter and determine whether Sen. Cruz played a role in directing this transfer.”

Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United, also asserted that Cruz “is once again showing his hostility and total disregard for anti-corruption laws that are designed to prevent undue influence by corporations,” adding that the payments show “he’s brazenly attempting to skirt federal regulations—and it reeks of impropriety.”

Cruz’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the FEC complaint, but the senator was indignant when approached by a reporter last week about the sketchy payments.

“You know, it really is sad what’s happened to the media, which is the media exists right now seemingly to parrot left-wing Democrat attacks,” he fumed, claiming that he was already cleared in other ethics complaints. However, that Senate investigation was concluded prior to iHeartMedia funneling any money into the super PAC.

Meanwhile, amid revelations that Cruz’s podcast ad dollars have flowed into Truth and Courage, at least one major advertiser on the show has backed out. Energy giant BP America told the Dallas Morning News last week that it was unaware the ad revenue was going to the pro-Cruz group and had since instructed iHeartMedia to redirect its commercial spots.


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