Oil and gas money, Texas filmmaker produce anti-Cruz political ads

Linklater ad

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Rep. Beto O’Rourke says he doesn’t condone political action committees getting involved in his challenge against incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. However, a well-known film director teamed with an anti-Cruz group — backed by oil and gas money — to “Fire Ted Cruz”. 

“When you don’t show up for work, you get fired,” said Sean Haynes, the spokesman for Fire Ted Cruz (FTC) PAC, “For six years, Cruz has been more focused on his personal ambition than representing Texas taxpayers.”

The group is backed by many donors, but by far the largest is an oil and gas magnate. According to Federal Election Commission documents, Vaughn Vennerberg contributed $100,000 over two donations, more than one-fourth of the total haul.

FEC documents list Vennerberg as the Executive Vice President of XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobile.

News reports show Vennerberg also started MorningStar Partners with money from the XTO sale to ExxonMobile. MorningStar Partners’s website states it “operates oil and gas interests.”  The company’s website states XTO owns interest in more than 55,000 producing oil and natural gas wells across the country.  Much of the company’s production comes from the Permian Basin.

When asked, the group’s spokesman said their cause crosses industries – even if some might be surprised to find the oil and gas industry.

“Cruz’s failed leadership is obvious to everyone on the political spectrum,” said Haynes. 

Vennergberg has been an active donor to Democratic causes for years, including the campaigns of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The left-leaning partisan group, Lone Star Project, is the second largest contributor to FTC PAC at $30,000.

Richard Linklater is the Texas-based filmmaker who produced Dazed and Confused, Bernie, and Boyhood. Linklater reached out to the group to assist.  “He believes in our mission. He’s a Texan who cares a lot about Texas and had a creative vision to help us deliver our message,” said Haynes.

O’Rourke himself has not embraced the PAC; he is campaigning against their use after all. When asked on MSNBC earlier about FTC, he had cold words. “Yeah, that’s not our stuff,” he said, “I’m not down with super PACs.”

Per the law, PACs and campaigns cannot coordinate.

“We’re not associated with Beto,” said Haynes, “We’re anti-Cruz.” 

Anti-Beto PACs

The corporate leaders of Gold’s Gym, Omni hotels, and Cinemark USA donate much of the money behind recent attack ads against Rep. Beto O’Rourke, according to documents from the Federal Election Commission. 

The political action committee Texans Are has spent more than $3.7 million on media efforts.

An FEC database shows Lee Roy Mitchell and Tandy Mitchell gave the group $1 million. FEC documents also outline that Roy is the chairman of Cinemark USA, a well-known movie theater chain. Tandy Mitchell is listed as an executive.

According to FEC documents, TRT Holdings, Inc gave Texans Are $250,000 on July 30. That same day, TRT’s founder and chairman, Robert Rowling, gave another $250,000. Omni Hotel & Resorts and Gold’s Gym are both owned by Rowling’s TRT holding group according to documents from the Security and Exchange Commission.

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