Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, locked in a heated battle for re-election, is once again touting his credentials as an anti-establishment populist, claiming to voters that he has taken on K-Street, the proverbial corridor of Beltway corporate influence-peddling.
Not so long ago, however, in a largely forgotten chapter in his meteoric political career, Cruz was a card-carrying member of the swamp.
Not long ago, in a largely forgotten chapter in his meteoric political career, Cruz was a card-carrying member of the swamp.
And, as part of his lobbying, he worked for some of the most well-known companies in the world. Cruz was once retained by Google to influence a high-profile government investigation led by his former colleagues in the Texas Attorney General’s Office, helping the Silicon Valley giant squash an inquiry that the company had abused its market power to undermine competitors.
The lobbying was done while Cruz worked for the mega law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, before his first campaign for elected office. Though his public profile with the firm focused largely on his work as a litigator, Cruz was also listed as a member of the firm’s lobbying division.
During that time, Cruz was a board member and state chair of an advocacy group called the Hispanic Alliance for Prosperity Institute. The now-defunct group was run by corporate lobbyists to mobilize grassroots support for industry priorities, primarily on energy, health care, and telecom issues. Records show that Cruz’s nonprofit — which was funded by the financial giants AIG and Goldman Sachs, according to an online archive of its website — pressured Congress to enact the 2008 law known as Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, that bailed out big banks at the public’s expense.
In his political career, Cruz has presented himself as a populist — fighting against big business and moneyed interests. In his first campaign for Senate in 2012 and during his 2016 presidential campaign, Cruz projected an image as a firebrand populist to rail against bailouts and political corruption. Cruz argued that he was compelled to run for office over frustration that “career politicians in both parties get in bed with the lobbyist and special interest.”
Cruz’s image on the campaign trail contrasts sharply with his years of climbing through the ranks of the political establishment. Cruz’s work for George W. Bush is well-known. He served as a campaign legal adviser, then gained appointments in the Bush administration at the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. In 2003, Cruz was appointed as Texas’s solicitor general by the state’s then-Attorney General Greg Abbott. Cruz used the position to argue cases on a range of hot-button issues, including gun rights and redistricting, before the Supreme Court, earning acclaim among conservative activists.
Years later, Cruz re-emerged as a tea party darling, appearing at events to denounce former President Barack Obama’s domestic policy program. He successfully ran in 2012 as an insurgent candidate for the U.S. Senate.
The years between Cruz’s stints in government — after he left the solicitor general’s office in 2008, but before his first run for elected office — have received little attention.
During that period, Cruz served as a partner at the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, a position that earned him as much as $1.5 million a year. At the firm, he worked on traditional litigation, representing, for instance, pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and Shandong Linglong Tire Co., a Chinese tire manufacturer, in court as an attorney. But he also worked to influence his former colleagues in government.
Cruz’s team was advertised as a collection of attorneys and lobbyists “who focus on helping clients anticipate—and succeed amid—legislative and regulatory change and heightened Congressional oversight.”
Cruz was listed as a practice group member of the Morgan, Lewis & Bockius lobbying division, a team known as the “Washington Government Relations & Public Policy” practice group. The team was advertised as a collection of attorneys and lobbyists with “alumni from both Republican and Democratic administrations, who focus on helping clients anticipate—and succeed amid—legislative and regulatory change and heightened Congressional oversight.”
His deep connections to the Texas Attorney General’s Office and experience with antitrust issues from his work during the Bush administration brought at least one major client matter to the firm. In July 2010, Texas announced that it would open an inquiry into the business practices of Google, charging that the firm had unfairly demoted the search rankings of smaller competitors to undercut their business. The state filed “civil investigative demand” to the Mountain View, California-based tech company requesting documents. Cruz was retained to help influence the potentially explosive investigation from his former employers in the attorney general’s office.
The following month, a team of in-house attorneys from Google, its longstanding law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and Cruz traveled to Austin to meet with Abbott’s staff to discuss the investigation. In an email dated August 23, 2010, Wilson Sonsini partner Renata Hesse emailed an antitrust attorney at Texas Attorney General’s Office, alerting her that Cruz would be among the Google attorneys visiting her office.
The meetings continued as Google worked to respond to inquiries from the antitrust office. According to schedule logs obtained by Yahoo! News, Cruz attended three other meetings with the Texas attorney general’s staff to discuss the Google investigation.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office eventually closed its investigation without bringing charges. But the office also shared the documents it gathered from the inquiry with the Federal Trade Commission, which was quietly pursuing its own major antitrust inquiry into Google. A memo obtained by the Wall Street Journal prepared by FTC staff shows that federal investigators cited documents obtained in the Texas probe 28 times in their report recommending a federal antitrust investigation of the internet search giant.
In the end, however, Google again prevailed — by exerting tremendous political influence. The company retained lobbyists and set up meetings with administration officials at least 280 times during Obama’s first term. Google co-founder Larry Page and former Google chair Eric Schmidt met with senior administration officials to discuss the antitrust probe, among other high-level contacts made to influence the FTC. Despite the memo recommending an investigation, the FTC closed the probe in exchange for Google volunteering to change some of its business practices.
It was during this time — between his stints in government — that Cruz was affiliated with the nonprofit called the Hispanic Alliance for Progress Institute, serving as a board member and state chair. The organization was founded by Manuel Lujan, a veteran of the George H.W. Bush administration and a registered lobbyist. The Hispanic Alliance engaged in a wide range of political advocacy tied directly to its corporate donors, a practice that earned it suspicion from critics as an “astroturf” lobbying front set up to provide business interests with the facade of genuine grassroots support.
The Hispanic Alliance, for instance, received financial support from the Coca-Cola Company while helping to lobby against taxes on sugary drinks. The group was listed as a supporter for “Energy Citizen” rallies against federal legislation on fossil fuel companies while receiving funding from the American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry trade group. Similarly, the Hispanic Alliance, which received funding from telecommunication firms, joined a coalition calling for the repeal of an excise tax paid by cellphone firms. (Cruz’s office did not respond to repeated inquiries from The Intercept about his former clients or his role at the Hispanic Alliance.)
During the 2008 financial crisis, the Hispanic Alliance pushed for a public bailout of the big banks whose dicey investments had collapsed.
During the 2008 financial crisis, the Hispanic Alliance played a role during the debate over the government rescue of failing financial firms — pushing for a bailout for big banks whose dicey investments had collapsed using public coffers. In September of that year, as the stock market rapidly plunged from bad bets on subprime mortgages, Congress debated a $700 billion bailout package. On September 29, the first vote on the bailout legislation in the House of Representatives failed, sending the market into even more turmoil.
The Hispanic Alliance sprung into action. “Hispanic Alliance severely censures the failure of Congress to enact the economic rescue,” reads a press release sent on October 1. “Both parties in both Chambers can not continue to waste time – they must approve a new measure of Economic Rescue, and they must do it this week,” said Jose Niño, co-president of the Hispanic Alliance, in the release.
Massive pressure from major financial institutions and fear of continued market collapse spurred lawmakers to act, finally approving the bank bailouts two days later.
Cruz’s affiliation with the Hispanic Alliance was proudly displayed in several profiles of Cruz before his rise to the Senate. Cruz’s professional biography on his former Morgan, Lewis profile similarly touted his ties to the group. Since then, however, the group has faded from biographical sketches.
Meanwhile, as Cruz campaigns for re-election decrying the influence of special interests, he has received over $600,000 from corporate-controlled political action committees, including $6,000 from Google’s PAC.