Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert’s connections to Texas Sen.Ted Cruz and his deep-pocketed, dark money donors run deep.
On January 2, the day before she was sworn into Congress, Lauren Boebert tweeted a picture of herself with Texas Sen. Cruz (R-TX) bearing the caption: “Ted Cruz is an American hero and patriot! On January 6, we’re both going to be fighting for freedom!”
On January 3, the day the 34-year-old was sworn into Congress, the newly elected Colorado Republican tweeted a video showcasing what she promised would be a daily routine of parading through Washington and the halls of Congress with her Glock pistol.
Proclaiming herself a new co-chair of the “House Second Amendment Caucus,” she had applied for — and recently received — a concealed weapons permit from the District of Columbia police.
Boebert further orchestrated her political theater to provoke House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) by firing off a letter and tweets demanding adherence to a 1967 rule that allows lawmakers to carry licensed weapons on Capitol Hill.
Let me tell you why I WILL carry my Glock to Congress.
Government does NOT get to tell me or my constituents how we are allowed to keep our families safe.
— Lauren Boebert (@laurenboebert) January 4, 2021
After all, Boebert had first parlayed her talent for gun-packing publicity stunts into victory in her bid for a congressional seat, with strong backing from Cruz. The one minute, 55 seconds of fame on television that launched her political career happened during the 2019 presidential campaign when Boebert, armed with her Glock, confronted Cruz nemesis Beto O’Rourke about his pledge to confiscate AR- and AK-style rifles. Three months later, groomed by Cruz operatives, she announced her candidacy, then regarded as a longshot.
Using the Trump playbook, Boebert spewed lies to stir up extreme-right voters, while drawing them as customers to her Shooters Grill restaurant in Rifle, CO. Her Democratic opponent in the general election, Diane Mitsch Bush, a veteran Colorado legislator and former professor, respected COVID-19 protocol by wearing a mask and campaigning mostly by Zoom. Like Donald Trump, Boebert made a point of not wearing a mask as she crisscrossed the largely rural, 49,731 square mile Third Congressional District of Colorado so often that she claimed $21,199.52 in mileage expenses on her Federal Election Commission report.
As fate would have it, on January 6, Boebert was at the House podium as Pelosi began receiving word about rioters attacking the building. Boebert began her remarks: “To ease everyone’s nerves, I want you to all know that I am not here to challenge anyone to a duel like Alexander Hamilton or Aaron Burr.”
The rookie congresswoman was a new star in the “Seditionist Caucus” lineup put together by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who as the House Judiciary Committee’s ranking minority member controlled the schedule of speakers arguing that Trump had won the 2020 election.
Shouting her objections to certifying the Electoral College results from Arizona, Boebert won applause from her fellow Republicans, even as turmoil was erupting in the halls of the Capitol.
Perhaps aware of what was happening outside, she said, “Madam Speaker, I have constituents outside this building right now. I promised my voters to be their voice.”
Her “Tweet First, Think Later” approach on the House floor spurred immediate outrage. Just four minutes after Pelosi had been escorted out by her security detail and two minutes before the House adjourned and the rioters surged inside, Boebert tweeted: “The Speaker has been removed from the chambers.”
The Speaker has been removed from the chambers.
— Lauren Boebert (@laurenboebert) January 6, 2021
Despite blowback about potentially jeopardizing the safety of the speaker, she waited only six days after the insurrectionist attack before rushing past a Capitol Police metal detector, avoiding discovery of any pistol she might have been carrying.
One day later, House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy did finally admit on the House floor that Donald Trump “bears responsibility” for inciting the Capitol riot. Somehow, Boebert managed to be sitting right behind McCarthy, perfectly framed on CSPAN. Since Boebert had joined the “Cruz Crusade” and had voted against certifying the Electoral College results, the image of the pistol-packer sitting behind McCarthy projected a different subliminal message. Maybe Boebert passively photobombing the minority leader was just a coincidence, but it looked like the symbolic equivalent of McCarthy crossing his fingers behind his back as he made a promise.
On January 21, even though the House had just passed new rules mandating $5,000 fines for House members who resisted metal detectors, Boebert and fellow gun-lover Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) set off detectors, then refused to be searched. Boebert rushed into the House chamber.
Likewise @laurenboebert – straight into the chamber after setting off mags. Cap police aren’t making a big deal about it, but members know they’ll be fined $5k
— Garrett Haake (@GarrettHaake) January 21, 2021
On the Senate side, in the bigger picture of who was responsible for promoting The Big Lie that Trump had been cheated out of a second term, Cruz was outshined only by the man with the golden comb-over himself. The then-president and the Texas senator created the false narrative that empowered the rioters to storm from the White House into the Capitol, hurling death threats as they advanced.
While the Jim Jordan-led House Freedom Caucus’s declaration to challenge the Electoral College results was a notable step, the more important action was in the Senate. There, Cruz elbowed aside his equally ambitious junior clone, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), to dominate the action as the ringleader of what has now become known in some quarters as the “Seditionist Caucus.” Of the 15 members of the House who received money from Cruz’s 20 for 20 Victory Fund political action committee, only four voted to certify Joe Biden as the 46th president
One who refused to back Cruz’s efforts to overturn the election, despite taking contributions from him, was Rep. Chip Roy, a conservative Republican from Austin, TX, who said after the attack, “This vote may well sign my political death warrant, but so be it.” As Roy put it: “The president should not have spun up certain Americans to believe something that simply cannot be.”
Boebert and many other House Republicans, however, had no qualms about spinning the “Stop the Steal” falsehoods promulgated by Trump and Cruz.
The Cruz-Boebert Financial Ties
If money is any measure, the Cruz-Boebert ties go far beyond being ideologically simpatico. Cruz, more than anyone else, is the person most responsible for getting Boebert to Washington, where she now sits on the House Energy & Commerce Committee and the Budget Committee, two committees near and dear to the Texas senator’s biggest donors.
Boebert also is emblematic of the success Republicans had in the 2020 Congressional campaigns that the Democratic National Committee fumbled. Across the country, GOP gains are attributed largely to the young, far-right women recruited to run as outsiders. In some cases like Boebert’s, professional right-wing campaign experts portrayed their candidates as “young,” “feisty,” and “refreshing breaths of fresh air” to defeat more establishment Republicans in the primaries.
She is one of more than two dozen 2020 congressional candidates spawned by Cruz and the network of donors who backed him for president, installed Mike Pence as vice president in 2016, and placed Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and others deep inside the Trump White House. This array of ultrarich Libertarian and conservative Republican contributors has been assembled over the last two decades and has grown exponentially since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. Its leaders — brothers Charles and the now-deceased David Koch, Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer, and others — helped fund Cruz’s PAC, Boebert’s campaign, and dozens more far-right candidates.
Federal Election Commission records show how the network of donors and GOP operatives has spread tentacles across the country. For instance, FEC records list a Washington area-based Republican consultant named Cabell Hobbs as the treasurer of the Cruz 20 for 20 Victory Fund as well as treasurer on more than a dozen other PACs focused on supporting right-wing Republicans. His consulting firms have functioned as treasurers and record-keepers for hundreds of millions of dollars spread across a spiderweb of PACs and campaign committees.
In a brief interview with WhoWhatWhy, Hobbs insisted he has no role in fundraising or any knowledge of Cruz fundraising for Boebert. “We just file FEC reports,” Hobbs said. “I have no operational say or decision-making authority.” Neither he nor other Cruz campaign officials whom WhoWhatWhy tried to contact would discuss the Cruz-Boebert relationship.
Ted Cruz is an American hero and patriot! On January 6, we’re both going to be fighting for freedom! pic.twitter.com/cwyBfJEhex
— Lauren Boebert (@laurenboebert) January 2, 2021
FEC records show that the Cruz 20 for 20 Victory Fund was by far the biggest source of funds for Boebert, passing through contributions of $136,250. Joint fundraising committees of this type are used by donors who want to contribute more than the individual limit of $2,800 per candidate per election cycle. In anticipation of the midterm elections in 2022, Boebert already has established her own PAC: Team Boebert Joint Fundraising Committee.
Among the rich people listed in FEC records as out-of-state contributors to Boebert are former Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr., Arizona Diamondbacks owner Earl “Ken” Kendrick, John Phelan, who runs computer king Michael Dell’s family investment firm, and John W. Childs, a corporate-buyout king who made a fortune taking over the beverage company Snapple and later gained notoriety when he was arrested in a crackdown on Vero Beach, FL, massage parlors.
Another notable donor is the principal owner of the San Francisco Giants, Charles Johnson. He and his wife Ann each gave the $2,800 individual maximum to Boebert, an act that after the January 6 attack on the Capitol incensed Pelosi’s daughter Christine, a longtime member of the Giants Community Board. After an initial waffling statement from the Giants, she threatened to resign unless Johnson renounced Boebert. She told the Sacramento Bee, “This is about felony murder and it’s about someone who tweeted the whereabouts of a person that was target of an assassination.”
The Johnsons, under intense pressure from baseball fans and the Pelosi family, now have asked for a refund from the congresswoman.
As is the apparent defense from many multimillion-dollar donors to right-wing Republicans, Charles Johnson claimed he had no idea Boebert and others trafficked in QAnon and other conspiracies. His statement said: “I would never have imagined that any legitimate candidate would participate in undermining the core values of our great country. Nor was I aware that any candidate to whom I contributed was associated with QAnon.”
Boebert’s $375,000 digital media campaign was managed by the Drogin Group, the same Austin, TX, firm that was central to Cruz’s Senate and presidential races. Boebert’s $1.5 million radio and television campaign was run by Alex Chaffetz, the brother of Jason Chaffetz, the Fox News contributor who made a name for himself in 2015 as the Republican Utah congressman who used the Congressional Oversight Committee to harass Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Cruz has deep connections in Colorado and Utah. In the 2016 race for the Republican presidential nomination, Cruz swept the 36 elected Colorado delegates and all 40 Utah delegates. One of those Cruz delegates, Kristi Burton Brown, served as Boebert’s campaign manager for the 2020 general election. Brown, now in line to be the chairwoman of the Colorado Republican Party, took over when the woman who had run Boebert’s primary campaign stepped aside after tweeting praise for the Proud Boys, one of the white nationalist hate groups whose members sometimes served as informal “security” at Boebert campaign events.
The money raised by Cruz during the 2019-2020 election cycle helped propel Boebert in the primary as she steamrollered Rep. Scott Tipton, a five-term Tea Party Republican who initially had the backing of Donald Trump. Tipton was a lazy campaigner who failed to calculate Boebert’s hustle or the power of the forces behind her. Using Trump tactics, Boebert mobilized pickup truck drivers and armed motorcyclists to conduct frequent protest rallies that helped spread disinformation, pump up turnout, and target government offices.
As Diane Mitsch Bush, who ran against Tipton in 2018, told WhoWhatWhy, “I don’t think he took her seriously. I don’t think he ever imagined she would win. People were shocked. They shouldn’t have been shocked. I mean, she ran a campaign.”
Boebert’s district covers Colorado’s Western Slope, the area west of the Continental Divide where the Rocky Mountains run west and north toward the Utah and Wyoming borders. Scattered throughout are several Democratic-leaning towns, including Aspen, Grand Junction, and Pueblo, which leave the competitive district with a 52 percent Republican, 48 percent Democratic split. In the Republican primary, Boebert beat Tipton 55 percent to 45 percent, then defeated Bush 51 to 45 percent with two other minor candidates getting the remainder. Boebert’s hustle cultivating extreme-right Trump supporters paid off, with turnout up nearly 25 percent over the 2018 elections and 11 percent over the 2016 presidential contest.
During the general election, dark money flooded the contest with attacks on Bush, the Democratic candidate who, at age 70, was more than twice Boebert’s age and a universe ahead of her in knowledge of legislation and public service. Bush had outraised Boebert $5 million to $3 million in FEC-recorded contributions. But outside advertising from Republican PACs altered that balance. Bush said her television consultant advised her that a right-wing group known as the Club for Growth was spending hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars on television ads and targeted mailers.
“They accused me,” the Democratic candidate recalls, “of being in league with the Chinese Communist Party to take away our natural gas and taxpayer dollars. They said I was a Socialist, … Some of the ads portrayed me as a mad scientist.”
Among the biggest backers of the Club for Growth and of Cruz is Illinois billionaire Richard Uihlein, a longtime supporter of ultra-right causes who is an industrialist and heir to the Schlitz brewing fortune. FEC records show Uihlein donated $24 million to the Club for Growth Action Fund in 2020.
The moment of fame that may have hitched Boebert’s wagon to Cruz’s star was delivered via Fox News and Glenn Beck rehashing local Colorado television news clips.
Cruz operatives were watching on September 20, 2019, when Boebert confronted Beto O’Rourke, the Texas liberal who was then on the Democratic presidential campaign trail. O’Rourke, who had run unsuccessfully for Senate against Cruz in 2018, was holding an outdoor town hall rally about gun control in Aurora, CO, just 20 miles from Columbine High School.
Boebert, wearing a Glock pistol strapped behind her back, got the microphone during the Q&A session with O’Rourke. Challenging his claim that he would have the government buy back AR-15s, AK-47s, and other semi-automatic and automatic weapons, Boebert declared that “Hell no,” he was not going to take her AR-15 and other weapons. She said, “I have four children and I am five-foot-zero, 100 pounds. I cannot really defend myself with a fist. … I don’t have my AR-15 today. I have my Glock.” After O’Rourke politely interjected: “You shouldn’t have brought that today,” she said, “Don’t worry. I have your back.”
Boebert, a high school dropout who had never held elective office, held forth in Rifle, CO, where she owns Shooters Grill, a restaurant known for its pistol-wearing waitresses and heavily armed, not masked, Trump-supporting customers. Food is not the main attraction at her restaurant, although the menu sports “Bump Stock” corned beef hash, “Swiss & Wesson” burgers, a “Ruger Reuben,” “M16” and “1776” burritos, and even, on occasion, a “Trump Special” burger.
Since her restaurant opened in 2013, Boebert has become skilled at stirring up controversy, flirting with conspiracy buffs and putting out a tweet storm of incendiary posts. She welcomed members of heavily armed white nationalist groups such as the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers as “security” at her political rallies, a key to out-flanking Tipton on the right. Bush said: “They were her bodyguards during her campaign for God’s sake. Three Percenters were there at all her rallies early on. When she was running against the incumbent Scott Tipton, she talked about: ‘I am the militia’ in her ads.”
As writer Cindy Hirschfeld put it in 5280 magazine last October: “The candidate’s supporters tend to brush off the slew of well-publicized bad press (including past arrests, missed court dates, a food poisoning incident at the local rodeo, tax liens against the restaurant, and the candidate’s on-again, off-again relationship with QAnon, the far-right conspiracy theory that accuses child sex-trafficking pedophiles of plotting against Trump, among other things) as the cost of running for office. The QAnon link — Boebert said she hoped the theory was ‘real’ last May, but has since distanced herself from it — is particularly troubling, as the FBI has termed supporters a potential domestic terrorist threat.”
Much like Trump, Boebert could not carry her home district, Garfield County, where she lost by six percentage points to Bush. In Rifle, a town of about 10,000 people, the most prominent Republican, Russell George, a former speaker of the Colorado Assembly, endorsed Bush, his fellow state legislator. In the same county, Trump lost to Biden by less than three-tenths of a percent of 31,245 ballots cast.
At least since the primary election last year Boebert has been slightly savvier than her fellow freshman, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R), about seeming to distance herself from QAnon conspiracy followers and white supremacists. “I think that Lauren and some of these other folks frankly are more into celebrity and being famous then they are into helping people,” notes Bush.
Since the Capitol riot, the focus of press coverage of Boebert seems to be reorienting, especially since Colorado Democratic candidates are already announcing plans to oppose her in 2022.
So far, attention-seeking rather than introspection seems to be the hallmark of Boebert’s opening days in Congress as she continues to add to her 3,200 personal Tweets and 522,000 followers while soliciting contributions. Two days after President Joe Biden announced the United States would rejoin the Paris Climate Accords, Boebert mocked him, tweeting: “I work for the people of Pueblo, not the people of Paris.” But that was only after Cruz had similarly mocked Biden, tweeting: “President Biden indicates he’s more interested in the views of the citizens of Paris than in the jobs of the citizens of Pittsburgh.”
Boebert has staffed her congressional office with experienced Washington hands from the Trump administration and the office of former Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner. But immediately following the Capitol riot, Ben Goldey, her first press spokesman, who had been press secretary for the Department of the Interior under Trump, departed after three days on the job as it became clear that the congresswoman might be unreceptive to advice. Goldey’s departure raises the fundamental question about Boebert that also beleaguered the Trump White House: Will she be able to keep her finger off the Twitter trigger? Will she mature into a disciplined politician with a coherent philosophy who takes advice from her professional advisors and stays on message? What seems more likely is that she will try to emulate Cruz to stay on course to fame and fortune.
Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).