AUSTIN (KXAN) — The corporate leaders of Gold’s Gym, Omni hotels and the Cinemark movie theater chain donate much of the money behind recent attack ads against Rep. Beto O’Rourke, according to documents from the Federal Election Commission.
O’Rourke is challenging incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz in the upcoming November election.
According to Federal Election Commission documents, the political action committee Texans Are has spent more than $3.7 million on media efforts supporting Cruz, notably by running attack ads against O’Rourke.
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.
The Mitchells are the largest donors to the group. They have a history of donating to conservative outsiders, including failed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.
KXAN left multiple requests for an interview or comment from the Cinemark leaders — a request that, so far, has gone unanswered.
If the founders of Cinemark carry the group’s largest checks, the owner of the Omni hotel chain and Gold’s Gym is close behind.
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.
Multiple calls to TRT, Omni, and Gold’s Gym have gone unanswered.
The FEC lists Willie Langston as the Super PAC’s treasurer. It’s based in Alexandria, Virginia. According to a company website, Langston was the national finance chair for the Ted Cruz for President Campaign during the 2016 primary election.
Other major contributors to Texans Are are Hushang Ansary, who gave $250,000 in April. U-Line Corp and its owner Richard Uihlein has pumped in $450,000.
KXAN has not yet heard back from the group Texans Are to comment.
PACs are common
Money usually gets access but that’s not necessarily the driver donations.
“These businesses find the candidate and say hey you have the beliefs that we believe in and we want to invest in your future. So it’s not as nefarious as it might seem,” said University of Texas Professor Sean Theriault.
He says donating to PACs is a common way big wallets can get around limits to direct contributions to campaigns.
After the 2016 election, blow-back for companies is more common.
“Five years ago no one might have cared. Now of course it’s going to get on social media and people who don’t like that candidate are going to start a campaign to boycott. So it makes businesses, they’re treading on much thinner ice than in the past,” said Theriault.
Rep. Beto O’Rourke says he doesn’t condone political action committee getting involved in his challenge against incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, but here they are – even on his side.
A well-known film director teamed with a Anti-Cruz group – backed by oil and gas interests – to “Fire Ted Cruz”.
Fire Ted Cruz (FTC) PAC 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. Vennerberg by far is the largest contributor, pumping in more than one-fourth of the PACs total haul.
FEC documents list Vennerberg as the Executive Vice President of XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobile.
When asked, the groups spokesman said their cause crosses multiple 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.