Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke during an interview with Oprah Winfrey. (Kathy Willens/Associated Press) Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke during an interview with Oprah Winfrey. (Kathy Willens/Associated Press)

Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke during an interview with Oprah Winfrey. (Kathy Willens/Associated Press)

Madlin Mekelburg
By Madlin Mekelburg March 14, 2019

No, Beto O'Rourke's father in law did not buy him his congressional seat

Editor’s note: This is one of four fact-checks featuring a claim made in Club for Growth’s TV ad about Beto O’Rourke. To read the others, click here.

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.

It also claims that O’Rourke’s father-in-law, "a billionaire real estate developer" from El Paso, "bankrolled a Super PAC to buy Beto a congressional seat."

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.

Did Sanders buy his congressional seat?

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.

A review of his finances conducted by Forbes in November of 2018 found that, "it’s unlikely, though possible, that he’s a billionaire." It estimated that Sanders instead has a net worth of about $500 million.

Sanders contributed directly to O’Rourke’s congressional campaign in 2012, giving him $5,000 in individual contributions to fund his challenge of then-U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, an El Paso Democrat who had held his seat for nearly 16 years.

Featured Fact-check

During the race, Reyes was targeted by the Campaign for Primary Accountability, a Super PAC with the stated goal of aiding candidates who challenge longtime incumbents from both parties.

The group, which was founded by Houston’s Leo Linbeck III, targeted candidates in Texas, Ohio, Illinois and a number of other states during the 2012 election, spending upwards of $1.8 million across 15 congressional races.

Campaign finance reports show that the PAC put the largest sum into the O’Rourke-Reyes race: it spent $240,000 against Reyes but did not contribute financially to O’Rourke’s campaign.

Sanders did not contribute directly to the Campaign for Primary Accountability PAC, but Campr II Partners, a partnership with ties to Sanders, contributed $37,500 to the group.

However, other donors contributed significantly more to the PAC than the partnership. Linebeck gave more than $775,000, businessman Joe J. Ricketts contributed $500,000 and Empower Texans Chairman Tim Dunn gave $350,000. Eric O’Keefe, a co-founder of the PAC, contributed $100,000.

Our ruling

Club for Growth said O’Rourke’s father-in-law, "a billionaire real estate developer" from El Paso, "bankrolled a Super PAC to buy Beto a congressional seat."

Sanders is not considered a billionaire. He contributed to a PAC that was targeting longtime incumbents in Congress, including O’Rourke’s opponent. But his contribution did not come close to others made to the group.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

Editor’s note: This is one of four fact-checks featuring a claim made in Club for Growth’s TV ad about Beto O’Rourke. To read the others, click here.


MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.

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PolitiFact rating logo PolitiFact Rating:
Mostly False
Beto O'Rourke's "father-in-law, a billionaire real estate developer who bankrolled a Super PAC to buy Beto a congressional seat…"
in a TV ad
Saturday, March 10, 2018

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

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No, Beto O'Rourke's father in law did not buy him his congressional seat

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