Residents across Texas have been receiving what some consider threatening mail from the campaign of Republican Senator Ted Cruz recently. The letters arrive in tan-colored envelopes with the words "SUMMONS ENCLOSED - OPEN IMMEDIATELY" printed in all-caps across the front. The letters inside ask for contributions to the campaign of Senator Cruz, though the letter's wording refers to the request as a "summons."
These letters have sparked concern among voters, as well as fierce criticism of the Senator's fundraising tactics. Many have expressed concerns that the mailers are designed to intimidate Texas residents, particularly the elderly, into donating to the campaign under false pretenses.
This is not the first instance of questionable campaigning tactics by Senator Cruz. In 2016 his presidential campaign sent mailers to Iowa voters informing them of non-existent "voting violations". The letters urged Iowa voters to cast their votes in the caucus to increase their voting "scores." Cruz went on to win the Iowa Caucus.
Received this for my 88-year-old grandma. Says it's a summons from Travis County, but is actually asking for money for @tedcruz . Did your campaign authorize this? Is this even legal? Shame on you. That's one more @BetoORourke voter. pic.twitter.com/NcFoOCvjFj— Sean Owen (@sean_r_owen) September 16, 2018
Reports of the "summons" letter began surfacing over the weekend when a tweet from Austin resident, Sean Owen, went viral. Owen's tweet shows a picture of a Cruz campaign letter he received for his 88-year-old grandmother. After opening the letter and discovering its true intention, Owen took to twitter to voice his frustration with his Senator's shady campaign tactics.
Owen's concern about the legality of such misleading campaign tactics reflects the concerns of many others. However, what may be more alarming than the letters themselves is that, both in this case and in 2016, Cruz's campaign seems to have broken no laws at all. Though Owen has reportedly contacted his country to request an investigation into the matter, it seems the mailers are legal.
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According to a report from The New York Times, a representative from the Federal Elections Commission has commented on the letter, saying that the F.E.C does not regulate how campaign material should be worded, only that mailings must contain disclaimers saying they come from the campaign. As Senator Cruz's letters include such a disclaimer, they remain fair game according to U.S. campaign regulations.
The Houston Press reached out to the office of Senator Cruz for comment. According to campaign spokesperson, Catherine Frazier, the mailers, "have been both effective and critical to identifying and engaging our supporters". Frazier adds that such letters are sent to donors and others who would be "interested in our message", and contends that they are "not spam."
In recent months the Cruz campaign has ramped up its fundraising and campaigning efforts, in response to the surprising success of the grassroots campaign of his competitor, Democrat Beto O'Rourke. O'Rourke had, at one point this year, significantly out-raised the incumbent senator despite not taking any money at all from PACs (unlike Cruz). Recently, however, Cruz has surpassed Beto's fundraising by a marginal amount, and has pushed slightly further ahead in the polls. The senator's late push comes off the heals of several attack ads, including one which falsely claimed that O'Rourke supports the burning of the American Flag.
Critics of Cruz's campaign tactics fear that such attacks and strategies will once again help him edge out a slim victory. In the senator's own words: "We've got a race on our hands." It seems that race is likely to draw more below-the-belt tactics from the man many have called the most hated politician in Washington.