The crowd at the Sunset Advisory Commission hearing at the state Capitol on Tuesday was a veritable who’s who of Austin government insiders, officials and activists. That lead to at least one comedic moment when Sunset Commission Chair Dennis Bonnen called “Jim Mann” to give testimony and two men approached the dais.
One was Jim Mann, a Special Commissioner of condemnation hearings in DeWitt County. He was there to criticize the system by which the Railroad Commission gives pipeline companies the right to eminent domain.
The other was James Mann, a lawyer for the Texas Pipeline Association.
“I was gonna introduce y’all,” joked Rep. Bonnen, [R-Angleton] as the two men shook hands and sat down next to each other. The crowd broke into laughter.
Lawmakers focused many of their questions on proposals to limit gas and oil companies from giving political donations to Commissioners. Specifically, the Sunset Advisory Report recommends that Railroad Commissioners should not be allowed to solicit campaign contributions except nine months before or after Election Day. It also recommends that Commissioners should not be allowed to take money from companies that have business before the Commission.
Commissioner David Porter disagrees with both recommendations.
“If a Commissioner knowingly accepts contributions from a party with a contested case before the Commission, you think that’s okay?” Bonnen asked Porter.
“I think we should be held to the same standards as all other statewide elected officials,” Porter replied.
Commissioners argued that they had historically self-policed their fundraising activities to avoid conflicts of interest. That prompted Representative Rafael Anchia [D-Dallas] to wonder “if the industry is self-policing and y’all are self-policing, what makes these recommendations provocative?”
“If we are capable of self policing why should we be treated differently than other non judicial statewides?” replied newly appointed Commissioner Christi Craddick.
The Sunset Commission report contends that the Railroad Commission is different because its primary role is regulating the same industry that largely pays for Commissioners’ campaigns.