How Pop-Up Super PACs Influenced The Texas Senate Race

The Senate race between Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz was the most expensive one in history, and last-minute money from unknown donors flowed in thanks to loopholes federal election deadlines.

By Alexandra HartDecember 13, 2018 1:03 pm

Weeks before election day in November, reports indicated that the Texas Senate race would be the most expensive one in U.S. history. The last campaign-finance report showed that Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke collectively raised over $100 million.

But it didn’t stop there. Even more cash would flow into the race from individuals and PACs alike in the last push until election day. Some of that money came from a so-called pop-up super PACIn Texas and beyond, these last-minute PACs are a new trend among some political donors, and they exploit a loophole in federal election deadlines. As a result, these groups can avoid having to disclose their donors’ identities until after Election Day.

“You never really know who was funding their efforts and the full extent of their spending until well after voters have cast their ballots,” says Michelle Ye Hee Lee, who covers power and money in politics for The Washington Post. “They basically circumvent disclosure deadlines when it comes to federal elections.”

Although this tactic is not illegal, it has drawn some criticism. “It’s legal, but they violate the spirit of the law,” Lee says. “Super PACs are allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to influence politics because they have to disclose their donors.” 

Democrats and Republican candidates alike have benefitted from pop-up PACs. Lee says national PACs come up with names for them that have local appeal.

“There was a group called ‘Texas Forever’ that was running ads against Ted Cruz just before election day in November,” Lee says.

But Lee says it took about a month for Texans to realize that this group wasn’t based in Texas.

“It was money that was coming from a national Senate Democratic-aligned super PAC that just gave millions of dollars to this super PAC that formed right before Election Day,” Lee says.  

But Lee says these last-minute PACs might not be around for the long term.

“There is some political will in Congress to make a statutory change, although it might take a while,” she says.

However the law ends up shaking out, Lee says experts on both sides of the political spectrum say these PACs go against transparency and disclosure in politics.  

Written by Alvaro Céspedes.