Ted Cruz's Texas senatorial campaign has sent hundreds of thousands of mailers seeking donations that are meant to look like official county summons, a high-ranking campaign official confirmed to Newsweek.
The brown envelopes read "SUMMONS ENCLOSED-OPEN IMMEDIATELY" in large black letters, and have a return address of "official county summons."
While the letter inside the envelope was a donation form for the Cruz campaign, there was some fear that some voters might be confused by the mailer and believe that they were required by law to pay a fee.
"Received this for my 88-year-old grandma," wrote Sean Owen of Austin on Twitter. "Says it's a summons from Travis County, but is actually asking for money for Ted Cruz. Did your campaign authorize this? Is this even legal? Shame on you."
Mailers of this kind are not illegal, as long as they include a clear disclaimer that the communication was paid for.
A Cruz campaign official told Newsweek that they had only seen a few anecdotal complaints from confused people. Everyone else, the campaign said, knew it was a campaign mailer.
But political consultants were divided on the messaging tactic. "These (appeals) are self-healing," Republican Craig Murphy told Politifact. "If people don't like it, they don't give. It's the most normal thing in politics. It's the attention-getter."
Democratic analyst Jeff Crosby said the mailers were deceitful. "I have to wonder if for every supporter they gain, they lose another one angry about the deception."
Owen was certainly angry when he recieved the letter intended for his grandmother. "I am used to ignoring junk mail with URGENT or FINAL NOTICE written on it, but this fooled even me for a moment, as it plainly wants us to think it's from our county government when it isn't," Owen told Newsweek. "That's different, that's over the line. It made me mad because my grandmother suffered from some dementia, and could easily have followed the urgent request inside to send money."
Owen has contacted his county to report the mailing and ask for an investigation. He said that while he wasn't likely to vote for Cruz before, he certainly won't now.
Cruz's Democratic contender, Congressman Beto O'Rourke of El Paso, has raised $23,332,950 to Cruz's $23,365,835 and trails the incumbent senator by about three points in recent polling. Unlike Cruz, O'Rourke does not accept donations from political action committees or corporations.
"We've got a race on our hands," Cruz told Fox News on Sunday. "If you're a wealthy liberal sitting in New York City or Massachusetts or San Francisco right now and you could defeat one Republican in the country, it'd be me, that's why the money is flowing in here."
This is not the first time Cruz has sent misleading mail to voters. In the 2016 presidential primaries, the Cruz campaign sent Iowa voters a letter that read "VOTING VIOLATION" in red font. Below the warning was an explanation.
"You are receiving this election notice because of low expected voter turnout in your area," it read. "Your individual voting history as well as your neighbors' are public record. Their scores are published below, and many of them will see your score as well. CAUCUS ON MONDAY TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE and please encourage your neighbors to caucus as well. A follow-up notice may be issued following Monday's caucuses."