Austin, Texas (TexasTribune) – Now comes the real money.
The official campaigns of the two Texans running for the White House — former Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz — showed their financial hands earlier this month. Now the super PACs supporting them are formally revealing their bankrolls, and highlighting the extent to which a few super-wealthy backers are financing both presidential efforts.
In federal records released Friday, the trend was especially stark for Cruz, whose allied super PACs collected most of their $38 million haul from enough individuals to count on one hand. Just over half came from two donors long expected to be the super PACs’ top financiers: New York hedge-fund magnate Robert Mercer, who gave $11 million, and Houston investor Toby Neugebauer, who donated $10 million.
An additional $15 million, however, was linked to two lesser-known contributors: Dan and Farris Wilks, billionaire brothers from West Texas who made their fortunes in the state’s fracking industry. Longtime donors to conservative candidates at the state level, the brothers are now bound to draw more of a national spotlight as the forces behind the largest known collective donation to any presidential super PAC so far.
“I think anybody who knows Dan and Farris Wilks will tell you that these guys came from humble beginnings, and they’re humble still,” said Luke Macias, a Republican strategist who has worked with the brothers. “And that is probably one of the biggest appeals that they have to Ted Cruz — that he believes in keeping an America where people who were not born into wealth can make something of themselves and achieve success beyond anything they can possibly imagine.”
For the pro-Perry super PACs, the disclosures Friday confirmed what the groups have already revealed: They have raked in $6 million from pipeline tycoon Kelcy Warren and $5 million from technology executive Darwin Deason, both from Dallas. After June 30 — the mid-year fundraising deadline — Perry supporters set up a third super PAC that they say has already landed $4 million.
“For us, these guys see Gov. Perry…as someone that they have seen in action longer than anybody,” said Austin Barbour, a senior adviser to the Opportunity and Freedom super PACs. “He has the longest track record.”
“I think that’s why they are so uber-committed to him,” Barbour added. “I think that as we move into the fall, we’ll have other people who step up to commit at similar levels.”
To be sure, the super PACs supporting Cruz and Perry were not the only ones Friday to report receiving multimillion-dollar donations. For example, roofing billionaire Diane Hendricks gave $5 million to a super PAC backing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, while billionaire auto dealer Norman Braman chipped in the same amount to a group boosting U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
Yet the pro-Cruz and pro-Perry groups led the way among super PACs leaning almost exclusively on a handful of deep-pocketed backers for their hauls. Ninety-five percent of the overall money the pro-Cruz super PACs have taken in was tied to Mercer, the Wilks brothers and Neugebauer, the son of Republican U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Lubbock. Meanwhile, Deason and Warren’s money made up 86 percent of the total haul by the pro-Perry super PACs during the most recent fundraising period.
The high-dollar donations helped the pro-Cruz super PACs raise more money than any others except the Right to Rise PAC, which raked in more than $100 million in support of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. The pro-Bush group provided a contrast to those backing Cruz and Perry, showing a broad base of donors, especially in Texas. It collected dozens of six-digit donations from its Lone Star State donor base, eight members of which gave $1 million apiece.
In any case, the spigot of multimillion-dollar contributions has left campaign finance reformers up in arms, concerned that the unlimited contributions to super PACs are giving too much influence to the wealthy. The super PACs’ hauls have vastly eclipsed those of campaigns, which can only accept $2,700 per contributor.
Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, said the expansive use of super PACs in the presidential race has “largely rendered the $2,700 candidate contribution limit meaningless.”
“A $10 million check directly to a candidate’s super PAC poses just as a big of a threat of corruption as handing a check to a candidate’s campaign,” Ryan said, predicting that more multimillion-dollar donors are on the way. “That list of billionaires is only going to grow and the result will be a bankrupt democracy.”
Written by Patrick Svitek for The Texas Tribune.
The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Ryan Murphy contributed to this report.