Editor’s note: This story was reported in collaboration between The Lever and The American Prospect.
A new super PAC led by consultants for Joe Biden, Barack Obama, and Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns is diving into a Texas primary to support a conservative Democrat who opposes abortion.
Democratic leaders have come under fire for continuing to support conservative Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) in his runoff election versus progressive Jessica Cisneros, even after the leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion set to invalidate federal protections for abortion rights.
With the runoff only weeks away, Cuellar, the last remaining anti-abortion Democrat in the House, has seen little outside support from Democratic groups — until now. On April 29, America United, a super PAC formed recently to back Latino House candidates, placed $241,000 worth of independent expenditures backing Cuellar, despite the fact his challenger is also Latina.
The effort suggests at least some Democratic operatives and donors remain willing to back an anti-abortion candidate in a state controlled by right-wingers, even though federal abortion protections could be eliminated any day now. The looming Supreme Court decision on abortion could have major implications for Texas residents, as Republicans there passed a so-called “trigger law” last year that will make it a felony to perform abortions 30 days after Roe is overturned.
America United told Newsweek last month it had already raised $2 million to support Latino House lawmakers and candidates and help improve Democrats’ performance with Latino voters. The group has not filed any list of its donors yet with the Federal Election Commission, so it’s not clear who is funding its ads to boost Cuellar.
According to America United’s federal election filings, the organization placed the ad buys three days before the leak of the Supreme Court draft ruling overturning Roe v. Wade. The group’s TV ads started running on May 3, one day after the draft opinion was published by Politico. Voters in the district report seeing the ads running.
Last month, Newsweek reported that America United planned to boost several Latino candidates, including Cuellar, and that Chuck Rocha, a consultant to Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign, was involved with the group.
According to Newsweek, Rocha pledged that America United would be an aggressive political operation, calling it a “smash-mouth bilingual PAC.” Consultant Jorge Neri added, “We’re calling it ‘No Bullshit PAC.”
Reached for comment, Rocha said he is not involved with America United’s efforts to boost Cuellar. “I am not working with that PAC on that race,” he said. “I do some consulting work with this PAC and over 25 other PACs. But I’m not working on this race.”
Nuestro PAC, a super PAC founded by Rocha, spent roughly $40,000 to boost Cisneros against Cuellar ahead of the March 1 primary earlier this year.
Neri, whose firm worked for the Biden presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee’s convention last cycle, did not respond to a request for comment.
America United reported paying Mosaic Media Strategy Group to create the ads for Cuellar.
Mosaic’s website lists two lead strategists. César Blanco, the president, is a state Senator in Texas representing a district in El Paso, and was recently elected to the Democratic National Committee. Ginette Magaña Salas is a strategist who worked in the White House Office of Public Engagement and as spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration. She also worked on Obama’s re-election campaign, and was a senior advisor to Michelle Obama’s organization When We All Vote.
The firm has also worked with Women Vote!, the super PAC for EMILY’s List, which supports pro-choice women candidates.
A request for comment sent to an email address listed on Mosaic’s website bounced back.
Most of the outside spending for the Cuellar-Cisneros race has come in on Cisneros’ side, including a recent $138,000 expenditure from Women Vote!. Since the start of the runoff, outside groups have spent roughly $850,000 to boost Cisneros and oppose Cuellar.
But as the runoff nears, Cuellar is seeing his share of outside spending. In addition to the $241,000 from America United, the PAC for the National Association of Realtors, a real estate industry lobbying group, spent $43,500 on online ads last week in support of Cuellar.
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