Carly Fiorina is not likely to end up as the vice president of the United States, despite Sen. Ted Cruz's tactical announcement on Wednesday that she would be his running mate. If she does, though, it's because outside political action committees, including one ostensibly supporting Ted Cruz, kept her afloat for months. The loosening of campaign finance laws made a PAC-run campaign inevitable; now, there's a long-shot chance that the strategy could result in Vice President Fiorina.
Ted Cruz has several outside PACs that are supporting his candidacy, each including the phrase "Keep the Promise" in its title. Keep the Promise I is largely the product of a generous contribution from Robert Mercer, a conservative hedge-fund manager who has provided $11.5 million of the $14.2 million the group raised through the end of March.
On June 18, Keep the Promise I sent $500,000 — nearly 4 percent of everything it raised — to another PAC called Conservative, Authentic, Responsive, Leadership for You and for America. That name wasn't the PAC's original name; its original name was Carly for America, since it was a PAC created to support Fiorina's presidential bid. But the Federal Election Commission doesn't allow a PAC to share a name with a candidate, so Carly for America became C.A.R.L.Y. for America, or CARLY for America for short. Its goal was still to get Fiorina elected president, but on June 18, it got $500,000 — a fifth of what it had raised to that point — from a group that wanted to elect Cruz.
Why? Kellyanne Conway, president of the PAC, told CBS News last October that it made the donation "because we thought she had important things to say that weren't being heard, including her poignant and effective criticism of Mrs. Clinton, at the time, the likely Democratic nominee." Reached on Thursday, Conway didn't go into much more detail. "It looks like we spotted talent early," Conway said. The enthusiasm for Fiorina, a candidate who has "got a résumé that Hillary Clinton would die to have," was a function of Fiorina being "the one most willing ready and able to not cede an ounce of 'the female candidate territory' that Clinton wanted all to herself."
Which doesn't entirely answer the question. Mind you, PACs can generally raise money from and give money to any PAC they choose, so there was no violation of campaign law. It was just ... weird.
That money helped CARLY for America stick around until the first Republican debate in early August, at which point it got two large individual donations from big donors. If Conway and Keep the Promise I were hoping to keep Fiorina in the race, it was successful.
It's important to note as well that CARLY for America's relationship to Fiorina was itself unusual. Normally, super PACs run television ads or send mail on support of candidates. CARLY for America went far beyond, serving, in essence, as Fiorina's actual campaign infrastructure. The campaign and the PAC stretched the boundaries of their ability to coordinate, with Fiorina setting events on a public calendar which the PAC would then use as a signal to prepare its mobilization efforts. CARLY for America gathered names, printed signs — even sent people out walking and talking to voters.
Fiorina's campaign raised a grand total of $12 million over the course of its existence. CARLY for America raised about $2 million more than that.
In other words, Keep the Promise I was essentially giving to the actual campaign organization of Carly Fiorina, if not the actual campaign committee. Fiorina's campaign did spend money and buy ads, but CARLY for America was the engine doing the grunt work. That engine got a big boost last June from Cruz.
It will probably be a while before we know just how that donation came about. Perhaps Mercer, the main funder, already had a PAC and wanted to use it to also support Fiorina. Perhaps he or his staff made the tactical decision that keeping Fiorina in the race helped split the moderate bloc that, at one point, seemed like it posed a threat to Cruz's chances. (Prior to Iowa, Cruz spoke not infrequently about how 2016 was unusual in that the moderate lane was more crowded than the conservative one.)
But the end result is that Fiorina may end up in the White House because Ted Cruz and his team twice took care of a campaign operation for her: first, the outside one providing resources to her candidacy and, second, his own.