Electric Industry Gives Big Bucks To PoliticiansHOUSTON -- Note: The following story is a verbatim transcript of an Investigators story that aired on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2007, on KPRC Local 2 at 10 p.m.
Like clockwork, around every election the campaign signs go up, the votes roll in and so does the money.
"The biggest, single business industry in the Texas lobby is the energy and natural resource sector," said Andrew Wheat with the non-profit group Texans for Public Justice.
The group tracks every dollar doled out to Texas lawmakers. And we discovered millionaire executives and political groups from the same companies you pay for electricity each month give hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to the same politicians you count on to protect you.
"These are heavy hitters," said Wheat.
Campaign contribution reports show the electric industry started at the top, giving Gov. Rick Perry more than $325,000.
The next most powerful state lawmaker, Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, filled his campaign coffers with $124,000 from electric company employees and their political groups.
So exactly who is parting with all that cash?
Those associated with TXU Energy generously gave $337,000 between 2005 and 2006. Reliant Energy executives and political groups donated $206,000.
And CenterPoint Energy's representatives and affiliates followed with their own gift of $186,000.
All total, the electric industry spread $1.8 million dollars across the state capitol and Wheat says that money is strategically donated.
"If you're sitting as a chairman of a powerful committee, they know that industry is going to pour money into your campaign coffers," said Wheat.
And that's exactly what Local 2 Investigates found.
The two chairs of the House and Senate committees that write the bills affecting electric companies and your bill each had a windfall of more than $80,000 -- money straight from the industry they're charged with keeping in line.
Both legislators refused to talk with Local 2 Investigates.
"The last thing they want is an independent watchdog in the legislature or the PUC. They want lapdogs," said Wheat.
Senator Kyle Janek, who represents the Houston and Galveston area, received $16,000 from the electric industry. But Janek says the money has no influence on how he votes.
"The public needs to look at me and say, 'Do I believe this guy? Is he credible when he says that he got $16,000, he voted for or against electric bills? Is he credible in the way he votes?" said Janek.
Janek sits on the Senate committee that introduces legislation specifically targeting the electric industry.
State Rep. Sylvester Turner sits on a similar committee in the House. But that seat didn't stop Turner from taking in $18,000 from the industry.
"I think the industry will say to you that a contribution made to me, to Rep. Turner certainly does not influence his position in terms of their interests," explained Turner.
But in a statement, CenterPoint Energy said this.
"CenterPoint Energy does not make campaign contributions. The company sponsors a political action committee (PAC) and all contributions to the PAC come from our employees. The PAC "looks at a variety of factors related to our company's business in selecting candidates to support" like "does the incumbent chair a committee of importance to our industry? Is the incumbent a member of a committee that can have a direct effect on our industry?"
"Why do you think the electric industry gives you money? If it's not for influence, why do they give you money?" Davis asked Turner.
"They give you money for access," replied Turner.
And that's access Wheat says you are denied.
"We just don't have a consumer lobby that's pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the governor's campaign coffers and if we did, I think things would be very different," said Wheat.
Reliant Energy sent us this statement.
"Reliant Energy employees, through political action committees (PACs), contribute to the election campaigns of political candidates, Democrats and Republicans alike, who take an interest in issues that are important to the electric industry and to our company. Employees of many U.S. companies, including other energy companies and our competitors, participate in the political process in this manner.
Reliant Energy is committed to strict compliance with all applicable local, state and federal campaign contribution and election laws. In jurisdictions where laws permit corporate contributions, the company along with many other citizens participates in the democratic process by making financial contributions to candidates and groups that support competitive electricity markets. In fact, our business model is based on the fundamental belief that competitive markets provide benefits to consumers and we support the continued growth of these markets."
Reliant Energy adds that it takes issue with the method Texans for Public Justice used in calculating the total dollar amount contributed by Reliant and its employees. A company spokesperson wrote, "Connecting the contributions of our former executives who were not affiliated with the company during the 2006 time period that we discussed, would not be accurate."
To see all of the campaign contributions made to Texas legislatures by the electric industry, click on the following links.
List Of Political Contributions By Electric Industry, Jan. 2005-Dec. 2006
Amount Of Electric Industry Money Received By Candidates, Jan. 2005-Dec. 2006
And the giving doesn't stop there. If you think the electric industry shelled out a lot for campaign contributions, wait until you hear how it spent between $10 and $20 million in recent months. Watch for that investigation on KPRC Local 2 next Wednesday at 10 p.m.