With only three weeks left to go before the 2018 midterm elections, a CNN poll showed Republican incumbent Ted Cruz leading Democratic challenger Beto O'Rourke by seven percentage points among likely Texas voters in the race for Cruz's U.S. Senate seat.
While the candidates faced off in debates and television ads, social media users shared partisan memes aimed at swaying readers for or against one or the other candidate, according to their preferences. Those memes were often based more on fiction than on fact.
One such meme sought to make an issue of Ted Cruz's wealth, asserting that his net worth had increased dramatically during his time in the Senate despite his fixed government salary:
— Roland John (@JohnBar39844923) October 13, 2018
As far as we can tell, the only figure the meme states accurately is Cruz's salary. According to the U.S. Senate's website, all sitting senators (excluding leaders) earn $174,000 per year.
We were unable to locate any reliable sources reporting that Cruz's current net worth is $4.6 million. According to the most recent estimate we could find (from a 4 October 2018 article in the Texas Tribune), Cruz's financial disclosure forms showed that, as of 2017, he and his wife Heidi (a managing director at the Goldman Sachs investment firm) owned between $2 million and $5 million in assets (including stocks, mutual funds, retirement benefits, and a partially repayable loan to Cruz's 2012 election campaign). They also had liabilities ranging from $1 million to $5.3 million. Subtracting the liabilities from the assets yields an estimated net worth of, at most, $4 million. The actual number could be far less, possibly in the negative.
Although the $4.6 million figure cited in the meme isn't implausible, we don't know how it was arrived at, or by whom. Nor were we able to ascertain where the other amount cited -- Cruz's alleged net worth of $500,000 in 2012 -- came from. According to the go-to source for such appraisals, OpenSecrets.org (the website of the Center for Responsible Politics), Cruz was already worth an estimated $3.47 million in 2012.
It's important to note that we only have estimates to work with. Candidates are required to disclose assets, liabilities, transactions, gifts, reimbursements, and certain kinds of expenditures on their personal financial disclosure forms, but not their overall net worth. Moreover, they're asked to report these amounts in terms of high and low ranges, not exact figures. This is how OpenSecrets.org arrives at an estimated net worth for each candidate:
Monetary values of assets and liabilities are disclosed in ranges rather than as exact amounts. These ranges are fairly narrow for the smaller values but become very broad for larger values. For example, a small value range is $15,000-$50,000, while a large value range is $5 million -- $25 million. For this reason, we provide on our site both a minimum possible net worth and a maximum possible net worth for each filer. We determine each individual’s average wealth by totaling all his or her listed assets at their maximum and again at their minimum values, and subtracting from them any reported liabilities, again at their maximum and minimum possible values. From the resulting numbers, we determine the average.
Here are OpenSecret.org's annual estimates of Ted Cruz's net worth between 2011 and the most recent year for which they analyzed the data, 2015:
- 2011: $1.84 million
- 2012: $3.47 million
- 2013: $2.3 million
- 2014: $3.39 million
- 2015: $3.8 million
So, although Cruz's estimated net worth may have increased after he entered the Senate in 2013, it seemingly wasn't as dramatic an increase as portrayed, nor was it a particularly shocking one given that his wife was the family's primary breadwinner most of that time.
In fact, Heidi Cruz inadvertently supplied more fodder for partisan attacks on the couple's wealth by suggesting in an October 2018 interview with the Atlantic that they wouldn't be able to afford purchasing a second home any time soon. The subject came up in a discussion about the hardships of being a senator's spouse:
It may be Heidi’s way of avoiding one truth she’s learned as a political spouse: that this life only gets harder as it goes on. Another term in the Senate means six more years her husband won’t live at home. It means more family conversations about why Dad can’t make it to school on Wednesday for the meet and greet with Caroline’s new teachers. It means Heidi is working 70-hour weeks not only because she wants to, but also because she has to.
“I really feel mission-driven on what he’s accomplishing,” she clarified. But “it does take some supportiveness, you know. Six to seven years in it, with me being the primary breadwinner — it’s like, ‘Uh, yeah, this is when people say thank you. I’ll now take that appreciation.’” She laughed. “Yeah, we’re seven years into this, and we’re not buying a second home anytime soon.”
Left-leaning commentators attempted to sow class resentment by portraying her as "complaining" about her husband's six-figure salary, but that's a gambit that cuts both ways. As pointed out in a recent Associated Press analysis, Cruz's challenger, Democrat Beto O'Rourke, had an estimated 2015 net worth of $9 million, more than double that of Cruz.
We reached out to Sen. Cruz's reelection campaign for comment, but have not yet received a reply.