Will Senate Ethics Hold Cruz Accountable This Time?

A close up of the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building with an American flag flying and a dark cloudy sky in the background.
The U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

The Senate Ethics Committee is the only body responsible for ethics enforcement in the Senate. It has a responsibility to investigate allegations of ethical misconduct so that the public can be sure that their elected officials are acting ethically.  

That is why CLC filed a complaint with the Committee against Senator Ted Cruz for circumventing the honoraria prohibition — a ban on accepting payments for speeches or appearances — by disguising speaking fees as payments to a super PAC supporting his reelection.

Sen. Cruz hosts the podcast, “Verdict with Ted Cruz,” which has been in syndication with iHeartMedia since 2022. iHeart has used the advertising revenue from Verdict to pay over $600,000 to the Truth and Courage PAC, whose stated purpose is to reelect Sen. Cruz.

Senate Rule 36 and the Ethics in Government Act strictly prohibit senators from receiving any honorarium while they are in office, which includes receiving anything of value for an appearance or speech.

A corporation giving funds to a super PAC supporting Sen. Cruz’s reelection in exchange for him appearing and speaking on a podcast clearly provides Sen. Cruz with a financial benefit, and therefore falls under the definition of honorarium, and as such, is prohibited.

Given that the Senate Ethics Committee is responsible for guarding the integrity of the Senate and conducting investigations into allegations of violations like this, the Senate Ethics Committee should take its responsibility seriously and voraciously investigate the circumstances presented in our complaint.

However, this is not a slam dunk. The Senate Ethics Committee routinely and systemically fails to hold members accountable for their unethical behavior. Over the last 10 years, only 3% of investigations have resulted in finding a senator guilty of an ethics violation.

This is because the Senate Ethics Committee does not have an independent ethics office to conduct investigations, but instead puts senators in charge of policing their colleagues’ behavior.

On the other side of the Capitol, in the House of Representatives, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) acts as an independent investigatory office to successfully investigate claims of unethical conduct by House members. In the last decade, OCE has found violations in 41% of cases it has investigated.

The lack of accountability in the Senate does not serve the public and, as a result, decreases public trust in our government.

The Senate must create an independent office for ethics investigations that should be modeled after OCE, rather than relying on an inadequate body that is seemingly incapable of fulfilling its duty to oversee and enforce ethics rules and laws, like the Senate Ethics Committee.

Danielle is a Legal Counsel on CLC's Ethics team.