Oil tycoon Kelcy Warren sues Beto O’Rourke alleging defamation over power grid criticism

Kelcy Warren is the founder of Energy Transfer, the pipeline giant that earned billions as a result of Texas 2021 winter storm. (Energy Transfer Website, Energy Transfer Website)

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Kelcy Warren, the Dallas pipeline tycoon and top donor to Gov. Greg Abbott, is suing Abbott's Democratic challenger, Beto O’Rourke, over his criticism of the windfall profits that Warren’s company made after the 2021 winter storm — and his $1 million donation to Abbott afterward.

During a news conference in Dallas, O’Rourke said Warren is alleging defamation and trying to “use his billions of dollars to try to shut me down and shut us up from telling the story of what happened to the people of Texas.”

“We are not backing down,” O’Rourke said, calling the lawsuit “frivolous.”

Warren, the co-founder of Energy Transfer and chair of its board, filed the lawsuit last month in state district court in San Saba County, accusing O’Rourke of a “relentless and malicious attack” on him. The lawsuit alleges defamation, slander and libel, and it seeks over $1 million in damages.

Abbott’s campaign distanced itself from the lawsuit, saying it “is in no way involved.”

O’Rourke has centered his campaign for governor on the February 2021 power grid collapse that left millions of Texans freezing in the dark and led to hundreds of deaths. Warren’s Energy Transfer reportedly made $2.4 billion off the storm as demand for gas soared.

Months later, Warren cut a $1 million check to Abbott’s reelection campaign. The contribution came in the earliest possible days that Abbott was allowed to accept campaign donations after the grid failure. It was the biggest single donation Warren has given to Abbott after previously writing $250,000 checks to him.

The lawsuit says O’Rourke has seized on that donation to falsely accuse Warren of “serious crimes including extortion, bribery, and corrupt influence.” The lawsuit points to a number of social media posts O’Rourke has made alleging that Abbott has not fixed the grid due to the influence that Warren and others in the oil and gas industry have over the governor.

The lawsuit calls such claims “baseless and malicious lies,” and it suggests Warren gave Abbott $1 million because he was concerned about one of his primary challengers, Don Huffines, a wealthy businessman and former state senator from Dallas.

O’Rourke defend himself Monday after walking reporters through the timeline of the storm and its fallout.

“All I have done today and all I have done over the course of the campaign is share these facts” with voters, O’Rourke said, arguing that “when we connect the dots and follow the money, we see that Greg Abbott has put profits over people.”

O’Rourke said he would use campaign funds to defend himself and that he was not worried about the cost because he finds the lawsuit “so frivolous.”

“We are on the most solid ground possible,” O’Rourke said.

O'Rourke is challenging Abbott for a third term. Both easily won their primaries last week, with Abbott beating Huffines and other challengers with nearly two-thirds of the vote.

After O'Rourke's news conference, an Energy Transfer spokesperson, Vicki Granado, said in a statement that O'Rourke "clearly hasn’t read or doesn’t understand the lawsuit filed personally by Kelcy Warren." Granado said Warren does not want to stop O'Rourke from talking about the storm but wants to stop him from making "irresponsible, defamatory and highly offensive statements" related to the $1 million donation.

"Mr. O’Rourke’s statements are flat-out false, and they appear to have been made for political gain in a desperate attempt to overcome what appears to be a weakening campaign to unseat Governor Abbott," Granado said.

Disclosure: Energy Transfer has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.