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Ted Cruz admits a bit too much about influence of corporate cash

Ted Cruz now claims to be uncomfortable with the pay-to-play game he played with corporate America for nearly a decade. That's tough to believe.
Image: Senator Ted Cruz listens during a hearing in Washington, D.C.
Senator Ted Cruz listens during a hearing in Washington, D.C.Anna Moneymaker / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Three years ago this week, Mick Mulvaney spoke to a group of banking industry executives, who were likely eager to hear what he had to say. By that point, the Republican was already a highly influential figure in the Trump administration, leading both the White House budget office and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, so when the former South Carolina congressman agreed to offer bankers some guidance, they were ready to listen.

"We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress," Mulvaney said. "If you're a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn't talk to you. If you're a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you."

As we discussed at the time, cynics who assume the worst of federal officials often suspect members of Congress sell access to lobbyists, but it was exceedingly rare to hear a prominent politician brag about such casual corruption in public. Mulvaney, ostensibly in a role to regulate financial industry excesses, was advising bankers on how to effectively purchase politicians' attention.

All of this came to mind yesterday while reading Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) Wall Street Journal op-ed, denouncing "woke corporations" -- a Republican concern that went from non-existent to mind-numbingly tiresome with amazing speed -- and executives who've had the audacity to criticize the GOP's voter-suppression efforts.

The ostensible point of the Texas Republican's essay was an announcement that he would no longer accept corporate PAC contributions. But while making this declaration, Cruz went quite a bit further about how he believes the system on Capitol Hill works:

This is the point in the drama when Republicans usually shrug their shoulders, call these companies "job creators," and start to cut their taxes. Not this time. This time, we won't look the other way on Coca-Cola's $12 billion in back taxes owed. This time, when Major League Baseball lobbies to preserve its multibillion-dollar antitrust exception, we'll say no thank you. This time, when Boeing asks for billions in corporate welfare, we'll simply let the Export-Import Bank expire.

Hmm. So according to this sitting Republican senator, he and his own GOP colleagues have been content to "look the other way" when corporations have failed to act in the public interest. Indeed, by Cruz's telling, it's worse than that: Republicans didn't just "look the other way," they also cut corporations' taxes and delivered "corporate welfare," too, while accepting the businesses' campaign contributions.

The Texan's op-ed added:

In my nine years in the Senate, I've received $2.6 million in contributions from corporate political-action committees. Starting today, I no longer accept money from any corporate PAC. I urge my GOP colleagues at all levels to do the same. For too long, Republicans have allowed the left and their big-business allies to attack our values with no response. We've allowed them to ship jobs overseas, attack gun rights, and destroy our energy companies.

Cruz concluded, in a message directed at corporate executives, "When the time comes that you need help with a tax break or a regulatory change, I hope the Democrats take your calls, because we may not. Starting today, we won't take your money either."

Again, it's striking to see a senator put all of this in writing. As Cruz tells it, Republicans didn't much care what corporations did, just so long as corporate PACs threw money at them and expressed indifference to the party's broader agenda. In fact, according to the senator's own op-ed, he and his colleagues would "help" executives with tax breaks and regulatory changes, in response to phone calls, thanks in part to the business' financial support.

But now that some executives have hurt Republicans' feelings -- by supporting Americans' voting rights -- Cruz is now uncomfortable with the pay-to-play dynamic he tolerated for nearly a decade.

Jon Chait joked, "I am not exactly a fan of the modern Republican Party, and even I think it's a little unfair and reductive to accuse them of allowing firms to destroy American jobs simply so they can vacuum up campaign donations. But Cruz is confessing to this. Not on a secretly recorded conversation. In public!"

As a headline on a Washington Post analysis added yesterday, "You're not supposed to say that out loud, Ted Cruz."