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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, Texas -  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:


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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

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