Ted Cruz Likely Violated Texas Law by Sending Misleading Donation Requests to Voters, Says Legislator Behind Law

Ted Cruz’s senatorial campaign likely violated Texas state law by sending out a piece of mail asking for donations disguised as a legal summons, said Democratic Texas state legislator Gene Wu, who first sponsored the law in question.

The Cruz campaign confirmed to Newsweek Sunday that it had sent out hundreds of thousands of mailers soliciting donations from voters in envelopes meant to look like official court summonses.

Some voters expressed fear that these letters would fool their elderly relatives. “My grandmother suffered from some dementia, and could easily have followed the urgent request inside to send money,” Sean Owen, an Austin, Texas, resident who received the mail on behalf of his recently deceased grandmother explained to Newsweek on Sunday

“We have multiple friends in [Fort Worth] who got the same deceptive mailer preying upon seniors,” tweeted former Texas Councilman Joel Burns.

GettyImages-1026793262 Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Ted Cruz delivers opening remarks during Judge Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Wu was the primary sponsor of 2015’s Texas House Bill 1265, which updated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act to ban any mail soliciting a good or service that’s meant to resemble a letter sent from an official government agency. The bill passed unanimously in both houses.

In a phone interview with Newsweek on Monday, Wu said that he absolutely believes Cruz to be in violation of the law. “As a member of the government myself, I realize that there’s already enough public distrust of us,” he explained. “Every time someone sends out a piece of mail pretending to be part of the government it diminishes people’s views of us and makes it harder to govern.”

He said that Cruz’s intent was clear. “There’s only one entity that can issue a summons, and that’s a court,” said Wu. “This envelope looks like a government envelope, its got presorted postage, clear windows and it’s manilla. If you look at the wording of the letter, it says ‘Official Travis County Summons’ which indicates that this is a government document. Under that it says ‘Voter Enrollment Campaign Division.’ That sounds like a government agency to me.”  

Even if most voters understand that the letter is from the Cruz campaign, it encourages them to dismiss actual any court summonses or summonses to jury duty they receive as junk mail, explained Wu.

Because Cruz is asking for campaign donations but not necessarily soliciting a good or service, it is not immediately clear whether he is in violation of the law. Wu believes a jury of his peers should ultimately decide if he is.

“Even if this does not violate the law, it violates the spirit of the law,” said Wu. “I’ve never seen this kind of mail from a campaign before, or even a legitimate organization. That should tell you something about Ted Cruz.”

In order to file suit against Cruz, Wu says Texans who received the letter should contact their attorney general. They are eligible to sue the campaign even if they did not donate money. 

Additionally, Wu alleged that the Cruz campaign may be in violation of the Texas Constitution and Statutes Penal Code section 32.48.

The section reads: 

A person commits an offense if the person recklessly causes to be delivered to another any document that simulates a summons, complaint, judgment, or other court process with the intent to: (1) induce payment of a claim from another person; or (2) cause another to: (A) submit to the putative authority of the document;or (B) take any action or refrain from taking any action in response to the document, in compliance with the document, or on the basis of the document.

If violators of this law received more than $2,500, they could face jail time.

The Federal Elections Committee (FEC) allows for these types of solicitations so long as the campaign includes a clear disclaimer “that identifies the person(s) who paid for the communication.” In this case, the Cruz campaign lists its name on the third line of the envelope, and on the letter inside.

“We regulate how money is raised and spent,” explained FEC press officer Christian Hilland to Newsweek. “But we would not have any jurisdiction over the content of the solicitation itself or any ethical implications associated with it. Any state implications would be left to local officials.”

Incumbent Senator Ted Cruz finds himself in a close race with El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke. Polls have the candidates within four points of each other and nearly tied in terms of cash raised.

The Cruz campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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