At the end of the pointless government shutdown that did nothing but damage, Republican representative Tom Rooney of Florida was asked who won in the stand-off. His answer was not the president, the Democrats, or even his own party. The winners, he said, were “the people that managed to raise a lot of money off this.”
By that standard, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee can confidently declare victory.
Senator Cruz’s political action committee raked in $797,000 dollars just this past quarter alone. Here in Utah, Republicans were inundated with 13 separate fundraising requests from our own Senator Mike Lee, who also fared well financially in the midst of the debacle, raising close to $250,000 for his 2016 reelection campaign. What’s interesting, however, is that there is a significant difference in these fundraising tallies beyond their disparate dollar amounts.
Under federal law, the funds raised by Senator Lee for his campaign is revenue that cannot be spent, in any way, for personal use. The same is not true of the money raised by Cruz’s PAC, which can be spent on anything with little or no accountability. And both Cruz and Lee gathered over two million signatures against the Affordable Care Act that were collected by The Senate Conservative Fund, a PAC that is also free to spend the money it raises however it sees fit. With two million more people on their mailing list, it is likely that they, too, will see significant returns from the shutdown fallout. But it is also likely that those who donate to these causes are unaware of how easy it is for their money to be misused for purposes entirely unconnected from the cause they thought they were supporting.
Consider Republican Congressman Ander Crenshaw of Florida. His leadership PAC spent $32,000 to take some of his contributors on a tour of California wineries. Democratic Representative Robert Andrews pulled $16,000 out of his PAC to take his family to a wedding at a four-star resort in Scotland. Both of these seem egregious misuses of donated money, but both expenses were entirely legal under existing laws.
Those who are motivated enough to open their wallets to support the candidates and causes of their choice expect their resources to be employed for the purposes for which they were given. Current law gives them no assurances that this will be the case. Cruz and Lee and others have a moral responsibility to spend PAC funds appropriately, but not a legal responsibility. Donors ought to be aware of the difference.