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During their second — and perhaps last — U.S. Senate debate, Republican incumbent Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, went back and forth on a number of issues Tuesday night in San Antonio, including the economy, the impact of the #MeToo movement and civility in politics. The debate got heated at times, and both candidates slung attacks at one another throughout the night. But how much of what they said was true?
Did Cruz invest more than $5 million in Cambridge Analytica?
The candidates opened the debate with a lively back-and-forth over whether Congress should regulate social media content to protect the nation’s ballot boxes. But before giving his answer, O’Rourke noted that it was “interesting” Cruz invested more than $5 million in Cambridge Analytica, the data mining firm that used data from millions of Facebook users without their permission.
“He voted against safeguarding the integrity of our election box,” O’Rourke said of Texas’ junior senator.
It’s true Cruz’s 2016 campaign relied on Cambridge Analytica for more than $5.8 million in services, according to Federal Election Commission records. However, Cruz previously told the Tribune that his campaign used the firm to assist in data analysis and online advertising and that all data used by the firm “were legally obtained” and “in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.” Cruz said at Tuesday's debate he believes Congress should do more to protect the integrity of the election but added that he didn’t believe it was the “government’s job to regulate the contents of comments online.”
Did O’Rourke vote to support late-term abortions?
Asked whether Texans should expect the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade to get overturned with the newly announced appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, Cruz said he wouldn’t speculate — but he mentioned that O’Rourke has “voted in favor of late-term abortions and taxpayer-funded abortions.”
O’Rourke is a longtime supporter of abortion rights. In October 2017, when the U.S. House voted 237-189 to pass Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act — a measure that effectively banned abortions after 20 weeks — O’Rourke was one of the (mostly Democratic) no votes.
The measure later died in the Senate.
“Today, Senate Democrats continued their tradition of neglecting moral responsibility and blocked legislation that would put an end to abortions of babies older than five months and provide protections for unborn children capable of feeling pain,” Cruz said in a statement at the time. “I am extremely disappointed with today’s vote.”
Did O’Rourke vote for a $10/barrel tax on every barrel of oil in Texas?
The Cruz campaign has been hitting this issue hard, purchasing billboard advertisements in Austin, San Antonio, Houston and Dallas that read, “Beto O’Rourke wants you to pay 24 more cents per gallon of gas.”
This claim goes back to the days of President Barack Obama, who proposed a $10 tax on every barrel of oil, paid for by energy companies, to fund rail and highway projects. When House Republicans in 2016 introduced a resolution opposing the proposal, O'Rourke voted against it. O’Rourke has since defended his vote, saying that he wants to find more ways to fund national infrastructure projects.
Cruz said that “a robust energy sector is good for all of Texas” and accused O’Rourke of voting for aggressive regulations of fracking and natural gas exports.
Did O’Rourke vote against a Hurricane Harvey relief bill?
Cruz this evening claimed that he “led the charge to pass three Harvey-related disaster relief bills” and attacked O’Rourke for voting against a measure that would’ve helped lower the taxes of victims impacted by the storm.
While it’s true the congressman was a “no” vote on the bill, O’Rourke has long insisted there’s more to the story. The bill, which was later signed into law, allowed Harvey victims to receive tax deductions on personal losses from the storm and reduced penalties for withdrawing funds from retirement accounts to cover storm-related costs.
But the bill touched on more than just Harvey relief. It also included a line that allowed for the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration and other small health care programs. O’Rourke said that he voted against the measure since it didn't include funding reauthorization for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Community Health Centers (CHC), which were both set to expire within days of the vote.
To be sure, this isn’t the first time this vote has been used as a line of attack by Cruz’s camp. The incumbent senator issued a 30-second online ad in late August titled “Completely Ridiculous” knocking the representative for voting against “Hurricane Harvey tax relief.”
“Do you regret your vote?” moderator Sarah Forgany of KENS 5 asked O’Rourke Tuesday.
“I don’t,” he responded.
Cruz makes claims about O’Rourke’s PAC support
After O’Rourke accused Cruz of casting votes under the influence of PAC donations, Cruz shot back that a PAC, JStreetPAC, has “raised over $160,000” for O’Rourke and that O’Rourke “has a super PAC based up in Dallas that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, is spending them on ads attacking me and my family.”
“When he says he doesn’t take PAC money, he just lets others do it for him,” Cruz said.
O’Rourke has held true to his promise not to accept PAC money. What Cruz was apparently referring to with JStreetPAC is the act of bundling, in which a PAC collects individual contributions and gives them to a candidate en masse. This year, JStreetPAC has bundled roughly $187,000 in donations for O’Rourke, according to Federal Election Commission records.
As for the super PAC, Cruz was likely referring to Fire Ted Cruz PAC, which has an Austin address but is helmed by well-known Dallas attorney Marc Stanley. The group has raised approximately $278,000, FEC records show, and it has spent some on anti-Cruz ads directed by Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater. One of the spots rehashes some of Donald Trump’s attacks on Cruz’s family during the 2016 presidential race while mocking Cruz’s current “Tough as Texas” campaign slogan.
Cruz also has super PACs supporting him in the race, and they have raised and spent much more than Fire Ted Cruz PAC has. But in any case, it is worth noting neither candidate has formal control over the activities of such groups, which can raise unlimited amounts of money to influence an election as long as they do not coordinate with campaigns.
How many votes did Cruz miss?
O’Rourke heavily criticized Cruz’s attendance record in Washington, accusing the senator of missing a quarter of the votes in the U.S. Senate in 2015 and half of the votes in 2016.
“You tell me, who can miss half the days at work and then be rehired for the same job going forward?” O’Rourke said. “That’s not what Texans want.”
Our fact check of the candidates’ attendance records finds Cruz has had one of the highest rates of missed votes in the Senate largely because of his 14-month campaign for president in 2015 and 2016. During his first term, he missed nearly 14 percent of roll call votes, which is significantly higher than the 1.5 percent lifetime missed votes median in the Senate.
“Congressman O’Rourke doesn’t seem to understand that representing Texas is not doing a photo-op in each county in Texas with reporters in tow,” Cruz fired back at O’Rourke. “It’s actually standing up and fighting for the people of Texas.”
It’s not uncommon for candidates seeking higher office to miss many votes, and our fact check finds that both candidates missed around 10 percent of votes in 2018.
Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.