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At Blackout Hearing, Big Political Donors Grilled

The big power companies in Texas on the hot seat during a Senate hearing about this month's rolling blackouts have donated more than $400,000 since 2000 to members of the two committees asking questions. The donations are part of nearly $4 million in campaign money the companies and their employees have spent on political candidates during that time.

Senators Leticia Van de Putte (l), Kirk Watson (c) and John Whitmire (r) listen to David Campbell of Luminant at a public hearing on power outages on February 15, 2011.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story including a company that donated a relatively small amount of money to a legislative caucus, not to political candidates. Those donations have been removed from this analysis, as has the name of the company.

The power companies and execs at today's hearing on the rolling blackouts this month were familiar faces to the senators asking the tough questions. Over the years, they've helped bankroll the lawmakers' political campaigns. 

Since 2000, in fact, power companies have donated at least $430,000 to members of the two Senate committees represented at today's hearing: Business & Commerce and Natural Resources, according to a quick analysis of campaign data made public by the Texas Ethics Commission. 

To perform the analysis, the Tribune searched for campaign contributions by political action committees, or PACs, and employees of companies testifying at the hearing. The analysis also included Energy Future Holdings, the power-generation firm formerly known as TXU. 

Top Donors:

PAC Total*
CenterPoint $1.2 million
Atmos Energy $870,000
Oncor $700,000
Chesapeake Energy $260,000
Luminant $76,000
AEP Texas $12,000
Grand Total
$3.2 million
* numbers rounded

The power companies don't focus their financial attention on a select group of senators. The donations are part of about $3.7 million they've donated to political candidates and political committees during that period. 

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Gov. Rick Perry, both longtime Republican officials in Texas, have received more than any other political figures during that time: $290,000 and $180,000, respectively.

Top Recipients

Senator Amount+
Fraser, Troy * $105,000
Harris, Chris $46,000
Estes, Craig $30,000
Whitmire, John $28,000
Hegar, Glenn A. Jr. $27,000
Jackson, James M. 'Mike' $24,000
Carona, John J. * $23,000
Hinojosa, Juan 'Chuy' $23,000
Nichols, Robert Lee $18,000
Seliger, Kelton G. $17,500
Watson, Kirk P. $17,000
Van De Putte, Leticia $16,000
Eltife, Kevin P. $15,500
Duncan, Robert L. $15,300
Lucio, Eduardo A. Jr. 'Eddie' $15,000
Uresti, Carlos I. 'Charlie' $10,000
Deuell, Robert F. 'Bob' $2,000
Grand Total $430,000
+ numbers rounded * Committee chairmen

CenterPoint Energy donated more than any other political action committee: $1.2 million. Aubrey McClendon, chief executive officer at Chesapeake Energy, donated more than any individual employee: $120,000.

Much of that spending came from the companies' own political committees, which pool funds from executives and other employees for political activity. (Direct contributions from corporations to candidates are illegal).

Of course, this type of regulated-donor activity isn't unique to Texas, and the power companies would argue that their donations help fund rigorous campaigns that reward candidates who support their agendas. But it is worth noting.

Let us know if you have feedback or ideas for other data-related content, and be sure to follow @TribData on Twitter for updates.

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