Some lawmakers investigating power grid failure received campaign contributions from power companies

Remember those 24 Texas House lawmakers demanding answers with the cameras rolling last week in Austin? The fiery hearings had intriguing questions and answers involving the CEO’s of CenterPoint and Vistra -- two companies that have provided thousands in campaign contributions to some of those lawmakers.

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These images from documents show the campaign contributions made to lawmakers by power companies.

In fact, analysis by KPRC 2 Investigates found that 13 members in the room last Thursday received campaign contributions from one, or in some instances both, companies.

Andrew Wheat of the group Texans for Public Justice views campaign contributions in Austin as challenging.

“The problem is that we have the foxes guarding the henhouse,” Wheat said.

Wheat’s group found 23 of the 24 members that were part of last week’s hearing received more than $700,000 in campaign contributions tied to Electric Reliability Council of Texas board members in the last two years. These are the same representatives promising accountability.

“I want names and details,” said Corpus Christi State Rep. Todd Hunter, one of the loudest voices in the room. He demanded the CEOs “tell me some specific groups,” regarding who was at fault for the state’s massive power outage.

What wasn’t heard is the fact that Hunter received $8,000 dollars in ERCOT board-related contributions or that committee chairs Chris Paddie (State Affairs) and Craig Goldman (Energy Resources) along with vice-chairs, Ana Hernandez (State Affairs) and Abel Herrero (Energy Resources) received a combined total of $38,850, according to Texans for Public Justice.

“It raises a question of conflict of interest,” said Michael Adams, Ph.D., a political science professor at Texas Southern University Adams. He also said there’s “nothing wrong with full disclosure.”

The contributions are disclosed in state-required filings, but they never came up during the public hearings. In fact, no one mentioned campaign contributions received from energy companies Vistra and CenterPoint before the questioning of their CEOs.

Wheat says transparency is in the best interest of all.

“It’s a helpful reminder for themselves as much as for the public,” Wheat said.

Prior to last month’s deadly storm, ERCOT was a golden child. A bastion of Texas independence, with billions of dollars in assets and a board that enjoyed close relationships with lawmakers.

DeAnn Walker, now the former chair of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, and former member of ERCOT’s Board has been close to Gov. Greg Abbott for years. She was a senior policy advisor to Abbott. Campaign finance reports show Walker contributed $7,620 to his campaigns over the last 15 years.

Lori Cobos is the chief executive of the Office of Public Utility Counsel and a member of the ERCOT board. She was appointed by Abbott three months after giving more than $1,000 to his campaign in 2018.

Those contributions are just a trickle of the more than $16.5 million dollars donated by the oil and gas industry to Abbott’s war chest.

Adams said influential donations have been part of politics for decades. Adams said both parties have had a hand in it.

“Some donors, they are trying to influence policy,” Adams said. “Others want key positions because they may believe in an interest or something like that.”

A quick campaign contributions check of Arthur D’Andrea shows the newly appointed chair of the Public Utility Commission of Texas has made no contributions to Abbott. However, there is history between the two. D’Andrea has served as a legal advisor to Abbott.

About the Author:

Journalistic bulldog focused on accountability and how government is spending your dollars. Husband to Wonder Woman, father to a pitcher and two Cavapoos. Prefers queso over salsa.