Pro-Ted Cruz super PACs mull options for their millions

Back Donald Trump? Shut down? Not all groups agree on next step

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A tangle of super PACs that supported U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential bid still have more than $20 million in the bank — and must now decide whether to back Donald Trump, close shop or play politics elsewhere.

Nearly all the remaining money is held by half a dozen loosely affiliated super PACs known as the “Keep the Promise” network, several members of which were controlled by individual megadonors and their families.

Overall, outside groups raised $62.4 million to support Cruz, and they spent $43.3 million, according to federal disclosures.

At least two of the groups — those spearheaded by wealthy Republican benefactors Toby Neugebauer and Robert Mercer — might support other candidates.

Another group, Keep the Promise III, which received $15 million from the Wilks family, fracking billionaires from Texas, did not respond to questions about its plans. According to Bloomberg, the Wilks family will sit out the remainder of the presidential race.

At least two other groups — Keep the Promise PAC, overseen by evangelical activist David Barton, and Trusted Leadership PAC, also part of the Keep the Promise network — said they’re closing down.

“We’re just wrapping everything up, and we’re talking to the donors too and trying to work out something — if we’re going to return money or if it’s going to somewhere else,” said Kristina Hernandez, a spokeswoman for Trusted Leadership PAC.

Trusted Leadership PAC controlled $1.1 million as of March 31, the most recent campaign finance report filed, but a new report covering its April activity is due later this week.

Both Trusted Leadership PAC and Keep the Promise PAC received seven-figure contributions from businessman Richard Uihlein, a prominent GOP donor.

Laura Barnett, a spokeswoman for Keep the Promise PAC, said that its group, too, is winding down.

The super PAC boasted nearly $600,000 entering April, but Barnett in an e-mail said it will have “nearly nothing” after paying outstanding bills.

If any money remains, Keep the Promise PAC will donate it to charities “that assist and advance what Senator Cruz supported and advocated,” she said, listing veterans’ groups and religious liberties groups as possible recipients.

The Keep the Promise super PAC network model produced mixed results. It established Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas who will now seek re-election in 2018, as a candidate with a major war chest.

But Cruz openly expressed frustration with his inability to control how the money was spent. The Cruz campaign took to urging the super PACs to spend the millions of dollars in their coffers on the candidate’s behalf as Trump continued to pull away from a once-crowded GOP field.

Federal Election Commission rules prohibit a candidate from coordinating certain activities with outside spending groups like super PACs.

The approach stood in stark contrast to that of Trump, who actively discouraged super PACs. He accepted supporters’ contributions, but relied mostly on his own wealth to finance his primary campaign.

Meanwhile, the Cruz super PAC network’s strategy wasn’t always clear, leading to questions about whether there were too many cooks in the pro-Cruz kitchen.

Each of the Keep the Promise groups were supposed to have their own niche, said Hernandez, though there was some overlap.

For example, Keep the Promise PAC was mainly responsible for rallies, Keep the Promise I specialized in the ground game and Keep the Promise III focused on digital outreach. Several of the groups sponsored ads.

The groups conducted regular conference calls to coordinate with one another.

“It probably worked better than you thought it would,” Hernandez said.

Nevertheless, issues arose.

For one, Neugebauer, who contributed $10 million to Keep the Promise II, proved reluctant to spend the money, despite prodding by prominent Cruz supporters. The group ended March with about $9 million still in the bank.

Neugebauer has since endorsed businessman Donald Trump, the all-but-certain Republican nominee.

In an email, Neugebauer said he has “not yet focused” on the future of the super PAC he controls, and did not respond to a question from the Center for Public Integrity about whether he intends to spend money to boost Trump.

In an e-mailed statement, Kellyanne Conway, the political operative who runs Keep the Promise I, the super PAC controlled by the Mercer family, said the PAC “will continue to support candidates for federal office. All options remain open.”

Mercer gave $13.5 million to Keep the Promise I, making him one of the 2016 election cycle’s biggest donors.

Like several of the super PACs in the Keep the Promise network, Keep the Promise I also received some contributions from other donors, and the groups also transferred money among themselves.

Not all the Cruz-supporting super PACs affiliated with the Keep the Promise network: Two other super PACs with remaining cash as of the end of March were Stand for Principle, which raised roughly $250,000, and Stand for Truth Inc., which raised a little more than $11 million.

Stand for Principle is still assessing next steps, according to Maria Strollo Zack, the Georgia lobbyist and former Newt Gingrich presidential campaign staffer who controlled it.

“We’re sitting in a situation where we’re looking at all of our options and we’ll figure out what we do next,” Zack said.

The organizers of Stand for Truth Inc. did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting comment.

This story was co-published with the Dallas Morning News.

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