New Study Shows Dramatic Increase in Industry Campaign Donations to Railroad Commission

Dec. 14, 2010

New Study Shows Dramatic Increase in Industry Campaign Donations to Railroad Commission

Public Citizen Report Highlights Potential Conflict Posed by Money Poured into Commissioners’ Campaigns

AUSTIN – Sweeping changes are needed at the Texas Railroad Commission because of the huge amount of industry money being poured into the campaign coffers of sitting commissioners, a study released today by Public Citizen found.

The report, “Drilling for Dollars: How Big Money Has a Big Influence at the Railroad Commission,” details how fundraising by incumbents increased 688 percent between 2000 and 2008. It also shows that the biggest driver of the increase was donations from individuals associated with the fossil fuel industries – the same industries the commission is charged with regulating.

“We need fundamental reform at the Texas Railroad Commission,” said Andy Wilson, a campaign finance researcher with Public Citizen and one of the authors of the report. “The Legislature needs to change how railroad commissioners are elected or do away with electing commissioners all together.”

The report details where the commissioners’ campaign money is coming from. By 2010, 80 percent of all donations to incumbents were from industry, up from 45 percent in 2000. The volume of donations from industry also increased nearly fivefold, from just over $420,000 in 2000 to more than $2 million in 2008. And while “big money” has always played a role, it has gotten even larger: In 2000, 80 percent of all money came in donations of $1,000 or more; by 2008, it was 85 percent and an astounding 92 percent for 2010. 

“The Sunset Advisory Commission called campaign fundraising a ‘possible conflict of interest,’ and that is putting it mildly,” Wilson said. “What we see is the absolute domination of campaign money by the fossil fuel industries in Texas. One of every two dollars raised by sitting railroad commissioners comes from individuals and corporations whose fortunes rest upon the decisions made by the commission. Commissioners may play coy and act innocent – they may not even see themselves as being influenced – but the people writing the checks know exactly what they are doing.”

This is of particular concern to Texans because decisions made at the railroad commission affect them every day. Charged with regulating the oil and gas industry, the Texas Railroad Commission has failed to protect Texas families who live on top of the Barnett Shale. Gas drilling on the shale contributes more to air pollution than all of the cars and trucks in the Dallas-Fort Worth region combined, according to research done while at Southern Methodist University by EPA Region 6 Administrator Al Armendariz. And just this week the EPA issued an endangerment order, ordering gas drillers to clean up contaminated drinking water.

Public Citizen’s report examined and catalogued campaign finance disclosures from the Texas Ethics Commission and identified those individuals and entities who identified themselves as being a part of the fossil fuel industry, a lobbyist or from a law firm. Concerned industry insiders and other public interest advocacy groups identified additional individuals and entities as being members of the industry.

The Texas Railroad Commission is undergoing a sunset review, mandatory every 12 years for every Texas state agency. In a special session of the Legislature in 2009, the review of the railroad commission, along with several other state agencies, was moved up by two years to be done in the 82nd Legislature, which convenes in January. The Sunset Advisory Commission will hear public testimony on the railroad commission on Wednesday at the State Capitol.

A copy of the report can be found at: https://www.citizen.org/our-work/texas-issues/articles/drilling-dollars-report-texas-railroad-commission-election-financing.  

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.