U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is facing a complaint from a watchdog group alleging that an agreement between his podcast and the iHeartMedia network violates a Senate ban on accepting gifts from lobbyists.
Filing a complaint with the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics, the Campaign Legal Center said the October syndication deal between Cruz's podcast, "Verdict with Ted Cruz," and the network is illegal because iHeartMedia, a registered lobbyist, now pays for the podcast's production and advertising.
IHeartMedia has been registered as a lobbyist since 2003 and has spent more than $3.4 million in contributions this year. The Campaign Legal Center argues that its deal with Cruz's podcast violates Senate rules and the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, and puts the Texas Republican's impartiality in doubt.
"The public has a right to know whether their elected officials are acting impartially in performing their duties, or in their own financial interest," Danielle Caputo, legal counsel for the center, said in a statement last week announcing a request for an investigation.
In a Nov. 30 letter sent to Senate Ethics Committee Chair Chris Coons, D-Del., and Vice Chair James Lankford, R-Okla., the Campaign Legal Center argues that iHeartMedia is providing an illegal service through money that qualifies as a gift under federal law.
Senators are allowed to accept in "good faith" gifts worth less than $50, but the acceptance of any other item, favor or service worth more is prohibited.
Additionally, the complaint points to specific legislation related to the Federal Communications Commission, and lobbied on by iHeartMedia, which was introduced in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, of which Cruz is a member.
"Allowing Senator Cruz to receive a gift potentially worth millions of dollars from iHeart would call into question Senator Cruz’s impartiality on legislation impacting iHeart’s interests," Caputo said.
For Cruz, the syndication agreement was a huge, yet unanticipated, development for the podcast.
Touting the successes of other iHeartMedia syndicated political radio hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Clay Travis, Cruz is hopeful that being part of the network of 850 stations will help continue to grow the show.
"This thing, for the podcast, is just a big damn deal. IHeartRadio is a monster," Cruz said during an episode of "Verdict" on Oct. 7, announcing the move. "This was not something we were out looking for, but they came and they saw what was happening on this podcast, the work and incredible viewers and fans."
Both Cruz and his office have denied any "financial benefit" derived from the podcast and likened the syndication agreement to a Senate rules exception that allows for senators to accept gifts of "nominal value," a common example being a cup of coffee.
"It’s no surprise Democrats and their allies in the corrupt corporate media take issue with Sen. Cruz’s chart-topping podcast — it allows him to circumvent the media gatekeepers and speak directly to the American people about what is really happening in Washington," a Cruz spokesman told several media publications. "Sen. Cruz receives no financial benefit from 'Verdict.' There is no difference between Sen. Cruz appearing on a network television show, a cable news show, or a podcast airing on iHeartMedia."
Last month, Cruz lobbied on his podcast against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and led a small, unsuccessful rebuke of the longtime leader by rallying support around Sen. Rick Scott of Florida to become the next Republican leader.
The Senate Select Committee on Ethics has not issued disciplinary sanctions since 2007.
The Campaign Legal Center's most recent investigation request is the second Cruz-related case the nonpartisan group has been involved in. In a campaign finance lawsuit filed by Cruz in 2018, the center argued for the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out Cruz's argument that a $250,000 cap and other limits on repaying candidates campaign loans violates the First Amendment.
In May, the Supreme Court sided with Cruz and struck down the limit as unconstitutional.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Cruz faces watchdog complaint because of podcast syndication deal