Elections regulator hearing complaint about Ted Cruz has yard sign for senator's campaign

The Federal Election Commission is expected to rule on a complaint accusing Cruz of violating elections rules with his podcast distribution deal.

click to enlarge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz speaks during a 2021 event in Tampa, Florida. - Wikimedia Commons / Gage Skidmore
Wikimedia Commons / Gage Skidmore
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz speaks during a 2021 event in Tampa, Florida.
Yet another ethical question has bubbled up about a member of the federal commission hearing a complaint that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's lucrative podcast distribution deal violates campaign finance laws.

Trey Trainor, an attorney serving on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) — the panel scheduled to hear the complaint — recently retweeted a photo his wife Lucy Trainor shared of a yard sign outside their Austin-area home promoting the Texas Republican's campaign for a third term in the U.S. Senate.

"Got my new ⁦@tedcruz⁩ yard sign installed today," Lucy Trainor tweeted April 19, 10 days after a pair of campaign-finance watchdogs filed their FEC complaint against Cruz. Trey Trainor retweeted the image the same day his wife posted it.
Additionally, federal records indicate Trey Trainor made three contributions to Cruz's 2013 senate campaign totaling $325.

Trainor's retweet follows last month's report by the Current that FEC Chairman Sean J. Cooksey served as Cruz's deputy chief counsel in 2018. From 2019 until joining the FEC in 2020, Cooksey served as general counsel for Missouri U.S. Senator Josh Hawley, a GOP hardliner frequently aligned with Cruz.

Both Trainor and Cooksey are Trump appointees to the six-member FEC, which is comprised of equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats.

The questions about Trainor's and Cooksey's relationships with Cruz come as the FEC prepares to weigh in on the legality of a high-profile deal Cruz struck with San Antonio-based media conglomerate iHeartMedia to distribute his podcast, The Verdict With Ted Cruz. 

iHeartMedia has paid some $630,000 derived from the program's ad revenue into a super PAC whose primary goal is to ensure Cruz's reelection. The groups that initiated the FEC complaint — End Citizens United and the Campaign Legal Center — argue the deal is a likely violation of laws barring corporations from spending unlimited cash in direct support of candidates.

Neither Cruz's office nor iHeartMedia responded to the Current's request for comment. However, Cruz's camp has previously said the podcast distribution deal is above board and that the senator isn't compensated for recording the show.

FEC spokesman Miles Martin declined comment on whether the Trainors' display of a Cruz campaign sign raises ethical concerns. Commission members' political activities are governed by the Hatch Act, a federal law that applies to civil-service employees in the executive branch, he added.

Whether or not the display of the yard sign violates the Hatch Act, Aaron Scherb, senior director of legislative affairs for watchdog group Common Cause said it gives the public reason to question whether the FEC's decisions are clouded by outside influence.

“Even if not outright illegal, it looks and smells bad if FEC commissioners promote campaign signs for candidates while considering enforcement matters involving those same candidates," Scherb said. "The FEC must consider strengthening its internal recusal procedures to prevent potential conflicts of interest."

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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