Get PolitiFact in your inbox.

Fact-checking Club for Growth's attack ad about Beto O'Rourke

Madlin Mekelburg
By Madlin Mekelburg March 14, 2019

El Paso Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who announced Thursday that he is running for president, had been teasing a presidential bid for weeks.

Speculation about his intentions prompted the conservative Club for Growth to release a television ad looking to weaken enthusiasm for O’Rourke among Democratic primary voters.

The ad argues that O’Rourke has coasted through life due to "white male privilege" and that he is a far cry from former President Barack Obama, as many have drawn comparisons between the two Democrats.

The two-minute commercial makes four claims about O’Rourke, some of which are similar to statements made by his opposition during his campaign for the U.S. Senate against Ted Cruz.

We decided to take a look at each claim in separate fact checks. The claims and our ratings are presented below, in order of their appearance in the ad. Use the links provided to view each fact-check in its entirety.

Club for Growth provided a fact sheet detailing the source for each statement in the advertisement. Sources include newspaper articles and other sources online. O’Rourke did not return a request for comment.

Claim: "His father-in-law, a billionaire real estate developer who bankrolled a Super PAC to buy Beto a congressional seat…"

Rating: Mostly False

O’Rourke married Amy Hoover Sanders in the early 2000s. Her father, William Sanders, is a wealthy real estate developer who grew up in El Paso.

While wealthy, Sanders is not considered a billionaire. He contributed $5,000 directly to O’Rourke’s congressional campaign in 2012.

Campr II Partners, a firm with ties to Sanders, contributed $37,500 to a Super PAC that spent money advertising against O’Rourke’s opponent. Other donors contributed significantly higher amounts to the pack, in some cases giving more than $500,000.

Claim: "...this after Beto did his bidding on the El Paso City Council, pushing a downtown redevelopment scheme to bulldoze a poor Hispanic neighborhood while enriching developers like his father-in-law."

Rating: Half True

O’Rourke served on the El Paso CIty Council from 2005 until 2011. During that time, he supported a proposal calling for redeveloping about 300 acres in downtown El Paso, including a predominately Hispanic neighborhood.

The plan was spearheaded by the Paso Del Norte Group, a private association of dozens of business leaders in El Paso that was co-founded by Sanders, O’Rourke’s father-in-law.

The plan was pitched as a collaboration between the city and local business leaders and called for using two primary methods of obtaining property in the area slated for redevelopment: eminent domain and a real estate investment trust, established for the sole purpose of acquiring property in the area.

Sanders formed a real estate investment trust to obtain property under the plan, but he pledged not to keep any profits he earned.

O’Rourke spoke in favor of the proposal but he abstained on key votes related to the use of eminent domain and other elements of the project. Two ethics complaints were filed against O’Rourke alleging a conflict of interest due to Sanders’ involvement in the plan — both were dismissed by the city’s ethics commission.

Claim: "Obama championed progressive causes on campus, seeking to combat inequality and harmful stereotypes. Beto perpetuated them, casting aspersions on working women whose ‘only qualifications seemed to be large breasts and tight buttocks’."

Rating: Mostly True

In a 1991 review for the Columbia University student newspaper, O’Rourke criticized the Broadway musical "The Will Rogers Follies."

"Keith Carradine in the lead role is surrounded by perma-smile actresses whose only qualifications seem to be their phenomenally large breasts and tight buttocks," he wrote.

O’Rourke later apologized for his comments and said Politico he is "ashamed of what I wrote."

Claim: "Obama went on to become the first African American editor of the Harvard Law Review, breaking barriers. Beto crashed into them, causing a collision while driving drunk, then fleeing the scene to avoid accountability."

Rating: Mostly True

O’Rourke was arrested in 1998 for driving while intoxicated in Anthony, a small town in El Paso County.

A witness told police officers that they saw O’Rourke driving at a high speed on I-10 before losing control of his car and striking a truck traveling in the same direction, according to a police report of the incident published by the Houston Chronicle. The truck was sent across the center median and into the lane moving in the opposite direction.

O’Rourke then attempted to drive away, but the witness stopped him. Law enforcement arrived at the scene and arrested O’Rourke. Police reported that O’Rourke recorded a 0.136 and 0.134 on police breathalyzers, above a blood-alcohol level of 0.10, the state legal limit at the time.

Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter

Our Sources

Politico, GOP meddles in Democratic nomination with takedown of O'Rourke, March 10, 2019

Dallas Morning News, Beto O'Rourke heads to Iowa on Saturday, still undeclared for 2020 but anticipation building, March 11, 2019

Club for Growth, ‘Pedigree’ Fact Box, accessed March 12, 2019

Forbes, Is Beto O'Rourke's Wife Really A 'Billionaire' Heiress? Not Likely, Nov. 4, 2018

Federal Election Commission, Campaign for Primary Accountability Inc., accessed March 12, 2019

Federal Election Commission, Robert Beto O’Rourke Candidate for House, accessed March 12, 2019

Nevada Secretary of State, Campr Partners Limited, accessed March 12, 2019

Texas Tribune, Super PAC Targeting Incumbents Gets First Win, March 8, 2012

El Paso Times, Ted Cruz ad 'misleading,' says attorney behind Beto O'Rourke ethics complaint, Sept. 18, 2018

Document, report on Beto O’Rourke’s DWI arrest by Richard Carrera, investigator, Anthony Police Department, Sept. 30, 1998 (posted by Houston Chronicle, Aug. 30, 2018)

El Paso Times, O’Rourke’s in-law to invest in plan, Oct. 06, 2006

Wayback Machine, El Paso Downtown Revitalization Plan, captured Oct. 13, 2007

City of El Paso, El Paso Downtown 2015 Plan, October 2006

Wall Street Journal, With a Little Help From Its Friends, July 28, 2008

El Paso Inc., Q&A with Paso del Norte Group: not just a Downtown plan, Sept. 25, 2006

El Paso Times, Downtown El Paso redevelopment is a story of two pioneers and one deteriorating portfolio, Feb. 2, 2018

Columbia Spectator, The Will Rogers Follies, Oct. 10, 1991

Politico, ‘I am ashamed’: Beto apologizes for ‘demeaning comments about women’, October 2018

Politifact, Beto O'Rourke arrested in 1990s for burglary and DWI, Aug. 22, 2018

Politifact, Beto O'Rourke says he didn't try to leave DWI accident scene. Police cited witness saying otherwise., Sept. 25, 2018

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Madlin Mekelburg

Fact-checking Club for Growth's attack ad about Beto O'Rourke