Reactivation of telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) expression enables cells to overcome replicative senescence and escape apoptosis, fundamental steps in the initiation of human cancer. Multiple cancer types, including up to 83% of glioblastomas (GBM), harbor highly recurrent TERT promoter mutations of unknown function but specific to two nucleotide positions. We identify the functional consequence of these mutations in GBM to be recruitment of the multimeric GABP transcription factor specifically to the mutant promoter. Allelic recruitment of GABP is consistently observed across four cancer types, highlighting a shared mechanism underlying TERT reactivation. Tandem flanking native ETS motifs critically cooperate with these mutations to activate TERT, likely by facilitating GABP heterotetramer binding. GABP thus directly links TERT promoter mutations to aberrant expression in multiple cancers.