The Voter Protection Project is a progressive super PAC founded in 2019 to “fight back against President Trump’s and Republicans’ attacks on our right to vote.” The group has endorsed 25 Democrats running for the House and nine Democrats running for the Senate. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) isn’t one of them. But the group has spent more money to help reelect him this year than any of the candidates it has actually endorsed.
The super PAC spent $250,000 in February on mailers to boost Cuellar in the March 3 primary where he faces a challenger from his left, immigration lawyer Jessica Cisneros. One mailer portrays Cisneros as an interloper, with claims that she is “bringing New York flavor to Texas.” It features pictures of “NYC Pizza” and “NYC Bagel.” Cisneros, who is actually from the South Texas congressional district she is running to represent, lived briefly in New York City to pursue her legal career.
Cuellar is an odd candidate for a self-proclaimed progressive super PAC to support. He is one of the most conservative members of the House Democratic Caucus with a record of opposing abortion rights, supporting gun rights and voting to loosen regulations on Wall Street. His campaign is largely funded by corporate PACs, and he is supported by two groups affiliated with the billionaire libertarian Charles Koch and by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest corporate lobby. As an incumbent, he has also been endorsed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
But his election to a ninth term is opposed by a wide range of progressive groups including Planned Parenthood, the Texas AFL-CIO and many other local labor unions, and environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the Sunrise Movement. Cisneros refers to him as “Trump’s favorite Democrat,” because he voted in line with Trump administration priorities 69% of the time in the last Congress. (That number has dropped to 44% when including the current Congress.)
So why is the Voter Protection Project spending $250,000 to reelect a centrist Democrat whom it hasn’t even endorsed? The super PAC did not respond to a request for comment, but there is a clue in its latest campaign finance disclosure report.
The Voter Protection Project received a $250,000 contribution from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ BOLD PAC on Feb. 5. The super PAC began spending money to support Cuellar and oppose Cisneros on Feb. 7.
Cuellar has been a member of that caucus since he was first elected to Congress and helps to raise money for the group. CHC BOLD PAC is holding a last-minute fundraiser for his campaign on Thursday, according to The Intercept.
“BOLD PAC makes contributions to various organizations that advance its mission to support Latino candidates and increase Hispanic participation in our nation’s elections,” Jazmin Vargas, spokeswoman for the political action committee, said in an emailed statement. “BOLD PAC does not coordinate with those groups and the recipient retains full discretion on how to use BOLD PAC funds.”
Note that Vargas’ statement doesn’t say that BOLD PAC’s contribution was not intended to support Cuellar, but only that the Voter Protection Project had “full discretion” to not spend the money that way.
The $250,000 BOLD PAC contribution is the single largest donation ever to the Voter Protection Project. Almost all of the other funds it has raised came from small donors giving less than $200.