After voting against the 2014 Farm Bill, El Paso Democrat Beto O’Rourke was asked to apologize.
Not to the voters, but to a political action committee (PAC) that donated to his campaign.
“At that moment, I just said ‘You know what, I don’t want to take PAC money anymore,” O’Rourke said. “This is crazy.”
Now, as Rep. O’Rourke campaigns to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) in the upcoming midterm election, his pledge to not “take a dime from PACs or special interest groups” may have paid off.
Center for Responsive Politics requested quarter four fundraising information from both campaigns ahead of Federal Election Commission’s deadline. Information provided shows that O’Rourke outraised Cruz and did so largely through smaller, individual contributions.
O’Rourke boasted $2.4 million in fourth quarter contributions compared to Cruz’s $1.9 million, according to the campaigns.
Cruz is still ahead, however, according to a recent Democratic poll, leading O’Rourke 45-37. He also may still hold the financial advantage — Cruz’s campaign noted that they toted more cash on hand with $7.3 million, compared to O’Rourke’s $4.6 million.
But the Democratic challenger may have a different numbers advantage. O’Rourke’s funds came from 55,567 individual contributions, according to the campaign. The average donation was $25 online and $40 in overall donations.
Catherine Frazier, a spokesperson for Cruz’s campaign, declined to provide the same details when asked.
“We’ll let the public report speak for itself,” Frazier said. The 2017 end of year report filings are due to the Federal Election Commission on Jan. 31, 2018.
O’Rourke launched his bid for Senate on the promise that he would not accept money from PACs. He said he hasn’t regretted the decision.
“We’re far stronger than we would be otherwise,” O’Rourke said. “It is giving more people a reason to contribute and become part of this. They know that their five, 10 or 15 dollars is really going to make a difference. There is no PAC, there are no billionaires. This is really people.”
Since 2011, when Cruz began campaigning for the seat he now holds, his campaign has raised $119,383,925, according to September Federal Election Commission data. In the 2012 election cycle, Cruz outraised his opponent, Paul Sadler, more than tenfold.
Previously, Cruz has been bankrolled by conservative big money groups like Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund. The senator has also received significant campaign contributions from interests like Exxon Mobile, Goldman Sachs as well as a set of banks and international law firms.
“Texans have displayed their confidence in Sen. Cruz’s proven record and he will continue working every day in the Senate to advance the values they have entrusted him to defend and the policies he has promised to champion,” Cruz’s spokeswoman, Frazier said.
And that money may play into the upcoming struggle for the Senate seat, which a Democrat last held in 1993.
According to a recent report by Public Policy Polling, more than half of 757 Texas voters polled said that special interest money is a “major problem” in Texas elections.
The January poll found that 53 percent of voters viewed the money as a major problem and another 23 percent viewed it as a minor problem. The poll also showed that 63 percent said that they would be more likely to support a candidate who doesn’t take money from special interests.
The poll also showed that O’Rourke trailed Cruz 45-37, but after the poll noted that O’Rourke was not accepting PAC contributions, favorability shifted slightly to O’Rourke 43-41.
O’Rourke’s anti-PAC sentiment is fairly new, Center for Responsive Politics data shows.
When O’Rourke was s running for a House seat in 2014, he did accept $178,000 in PAC donations. O’Rourke’s top campaign contributors that year were Hunt Companies, Strategic Growth Bank and oil interest Western Refining.
“When I won the [2014 primary] election, PAC checks just poured in unsolicited,” O’Rourke said. “The unwritten and unacknowledged part of that is that the interests who send those PAC checks want to have access to those members of Congress.”