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TribBlog: "Soft Corruption" at the Railroad Commission?

Members of the Texas Railroad Commission have become increasingly reliant on large campaign donations in the last decade, especially from industries they regulate, according to a new report to be issued today by Public Citizen's Texas office.

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Members of the Texas Railroad Commission are increasingly reliant on large campaign donations, especially from industries they regulate, according to a new report to be issued today by Public Citizen's Texas office.

The liberal watchdog group spent months examining campaign-finance data, finding that as much as 80 percent of the funds raised in 2010 came from "industry" employees, up from roughly half in 2000. The data also show that commissioners — who have regulatory jurisdiction over the oil and gas industry — raised much more money in 2000 than in 2008: $230,000 to $2.1 million, respectively. (Fundraising was down in 2010, perhaps because of incumbent Victor Carrillo's defeat in the GOP primary).

These findings show the inexcusable amount of money that is spent to fund the political races of incumbent Railroad Commissioners. This sort of broad-based culture of influence demands reforms at the Railroad Commission and how commissioners are elected. Public Citizen supports campaign finance reform for Railroad Commissioners or moving them to appointed, rather than elected, officials. The Sunset Review that the agency is currently undergoing is the perfect opportunity to make these changes.

Of course, campaigns at all levels are more expensive now. But the report states that donations to railroad commissioners' election-cycle fundraising in general outpaced those to mid-level statewide officeholders, such as the Texas land commissioner or the Texas comptroller of public accounts.

Read the full report

The report comes just before a legislative session in which lawmakers might be asked to alter the agency's structure. Last month, the Sunset Advisory Commission, which reviews the performance of state agencies, recommended dismantling the Railroad Commission. The proposal would create a new agency called the Texas Oil and Gas Commission and require that commissioners be appointed by the governor, rather than being elected statewide. From the report:

Critics would argue that elected commissioners pose a conflict for the agency's regulatory role, as the costs of a statewide campaign often rely on campaign contributions from the regulated industry.

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