A complaint filed by government watchdog Campaign Legal Center on Wednesday accuses Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) of breaking federal law when accepting a deal with terrestrial radio giant iHeart Media.
The 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, prohibits lawmakers from accepting “gifts” from registered lobbyists, which raises questions about Cruz’s media and marketing deal with iHeart to finance, produce and market the Texas senator’s struggling podcast, The Verdict with Ted Cruz.
In October his co-host, the Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles, talked about the partnership on an episode of their show.
“iHeart can fund the whole thing, fund production, dump a whole bunch of money into marketing,: Knowles said. “This is incredible. It will make the show sustainable.” ‘This thing for the podcast is just a big damn deal,” Cruz responded. “iHeart Radio is a monster.”
Not so fast.
In the Campaign Legal Center’s complaint filed with the Senate Ethics Committee, CLC points out that iHeartMedia not only lobbied a committee that Cruz serves on, but donated $2000 to the Senator’s 2018 reelection campaign.
The radio conglomerate slash registered lobbyist has spent upwards of $48 million since 2003 trying to influence federal legislation around issues like data privacy, radio ownership, and the Communications Decency Act, Forbes reported.
The CLC’s November 30th letter addressed to Chairman Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), and Vice Chair Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) asks the committee to investigate whether Cruz violated laws against members of the Senate accepting gifts – asserting that free production and marketing services provided by iHeart Media fit into that category.
Although Senator Cruz is not the only member of Congress to host a podcast, he is the only member who is apparently violating federal law because there is substantial evidence that an illegal source finances the podcast. Moreover, iHeart lobbies on media industry bills before Senator Cruz’s committee while the podcast boasts that iHeart will “fund production [and] dump a whole bunch of money into marketing” Senator Cruz’s show.
Lobbying in violation of the Lobbying Disclosure Act are subject to both criminal and civil penalties up to $200,000.
Sen. Cruz has denied any wrongdoing, claiming it doesn’t apply because the right-wing host doesn’t receive direct compensation for this podcast work, but CLC’s senior director for ethics, Kedric Payne, disagrees.
“The same way they couldn’t give him a ticket to the Super Bowl and say, ‘He wasn’t paid to go,’ they can’t provide free production services that are invaluable,” Payne said. The vice president and general counsel went on to say, “He is not able to reach an audience that is broader than any cable station or radio network for free.”
“No one is this bold to accept a deal like this,” Payne said of Cruz. “You just don’t do it.”
The deadline for iHeart Media to file its semiannual lobbying compliance report is January 30th.
The company could face up to five years in prison if found to be in violation.
The deal would increase production of The Verdict from one to three shows a week and broadcast the podcast on many of the iHearRadio’s 860 syndicated stations.
Original reporting by Zack Everson at Forbes.
Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick