Will Texas regulators be willing to police the hand that funds them?
Polls are open today in the Republican primary runoff race for two seats on the Railroad Commission of Texas. But the commission has nothing to do with railroads and everything to do with regulating the oil and gas industry in Texas.
Republican Barry Smitherman, current chair of the commission (he was appointed by Governor Rick Perry after chair Michael Williams left for a failed Congressional bid), is widely expected to win his run-off against Greg Parker. Aside from some heavy anti-Obama and anti-EPA rhetoric in his campaign, Smitherman has also called for updating the agency’s website and recently enacted tighter revolving door rules. (Update: Smitherman won, as expected.)
The race for the other seat is a bit tighter. It features Republican Warren Chisum against Republican Christi Craddick. Warren Chisum is a state representative from Pampa who chose to run for the commission instead of reelection. He’s also made a fortune in the oil and gas industry. Chisum is facing off against Christi Craddick, an oil and gas attorney and daughter of longtime state representative (and former Texas House Speaker) Tom Craddick. In the initial primary, Craddick got roughly 36 percent of the vote, while Chisum won around 27 percent. Now the two are in a runoff, and the winner will face Democratic challenger Dale Henry this fall. (Update: With over 61 percent of the vote, Craddick beat Chisum.)
As far as what they would do differently on the commission, it’s been difficult to tell the two candidates apart. Chisum and Craddick have both employed heavy bravado about keeping the federal government out of state regulation of oil and gas. Not surprisingly, contributions to both Craddick and Chisum have come from individuals and corporations involved in oil and gas, the same companies they would regulate as commissioners.
Oil and Gas Dollars Fund the Candidates
In an independent review of financial reports by the candidates from the Texas Ethics Commission, StateImpact Texas found that many of the donations the candidates have received are tied to the oil and gas industry.
There are no limits to how much individuals and corporate-sponsored PACs can give to Railroad Commission candidates in Texas, and Craddick has been raking in the oil and gas dollars. S. Javaid Anwar, owner and president of Midland Energy, gave Craddick $100,000. Numerous individuals associated with BTA Oil Producers gave Craddick a total of $109,500. Donald Wood of Permian Enterprises gave Craddick $45,000, and Mickey Long, president of Westex Well Services, gave Craddick $25,000. The list goes on.
Craddick has also received campaign contributions from oil and gas Political Action Committees (PACs), including $25,000 from Kelcy Warren, head of the Energy Transfer Partners PAC, and another $10,000 from the PAC itself. Craddick also received funds from the Atmos Energy Corp. PAC, to the tune of $6,000.
The biggest donor to Craddick’s campaign? Her father, Tom Craddick. He’s given over $500,000 to his daughter, some of that for ads and air travel, with $160,000 of that coming in just last week. Christi Craddick spent nearly a decade working for her father in the Texas lege.
You can read all of Craddick’s reports at the Texas Ethics Commission here.
While Craddick has mostly large donations from a smaller pool of contributors, Chisum received smaller contributions from a larger group of donors. Curtis Mewbourne of Mewbourne Oil Company gave Chisum $75,000. The Texas Oil & Gas PAC gave Chisum $25,000. Oil and gas man Harold Courson gave Chisum $10,000.
And oil companies PACs have given to Chisum as well. An employee PAC from Valero gave Chisum $7,500, and one from Chevron gave him $5,000. Clarence Cazalot, president and CEO of Marathon Oil, gave Chisum $2,500. In all, Chisum has received over a hundred donations from individuals and corporations in the oil and gas industry.
And the same goes for commissioner Barry Smitherman. He’s received donations from dozens of individuals and companies in the oil and gas and energy industries, including Marathon, Luminant, Range Resources, and many others. You can read his election finance reports here.
But Does it Even Matter Who Wins?
In an insightful piece for Texas Weekly, Kate Galbraith asks the question on many minds today: Does it even matter who wins?
“The candidates sound remarkably similar on the big-ticket topics. All loathe the Environmental Protection Agency, applaud the Texas drilling boom and want to overhaul the commission’s often-impenetrable website. And indeed, most of the commission’s decisions are unanimous, according to Elizabeth Ames Jones, who left the commission in February.
She and others insist that this does not mean that the commissioners are interchangeable in the way they will vote. Whereas cases involving geology and engineering disputes are often more straightforward, some of the most important and precedent-setting decisions, involving for example new technology, get decided by 2-1 votes, she said. The Sunset Commission last year, for example, elicited a difference of opinion: then-chairman Michael Williams wanted a single commissioner to preside over the agency, whereas Ames Jones and Commissioner David Porter favored the current three-commissioner set-up.”
Poll are open until seven tonight. You can find where your precinct is here.