Energy Future Holdings realigns PACsUtility adds one donor group, reassesses others
By ELIZABETH SOUDER / The Dallas Morning News
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Energy Future Holdings is realigning its political action committees, tweaking organizations that typically blanket Austin with hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions each year.
The Dallas power company, formerly known as TXU Corp., started a new PAC that pools contributions from some private equity investors in the company, including heavyweight investor David Bonderman.
That new group, called Texas Energy Future Capital Holdings Political Action Committee, is branching out a bit. It contributed in its first two months to some Houston Democrats but skipped gifts to a couple of powerful legislators who've been close to the top of TXU's list in previous years.
But that's just the first two months of operations.
"They wallpaper with money," said Craig McDonald, director of watchdog group Texans for Public Justice. He expects Energy Future to continue to contribute to just about everybody.
During the 2006 election cycle, TXU contributed to all but seven legislators, according to a study by Mr. McDonald's organization.
In addition to the new committee, five other political action committees are associated with Energy Future Holdings: Texas Employee PAC of TXU Corp., TXU Corp. PAC, Oncor Texas PAC, Electric Delivery PAC of TXU, and Power and Energy PAC of TXU Corp.
Energy Future spokeswoman Lisa Singleton said the company is reorganizing the committees since TXU was bought late last year by private equity investors TPG and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.
She declined to talk about the committees' political strategies, other than to say that employees want to engage in the legislative process.
"Maintaining relationships, participating in the political process is part of running a good business and part of being a good corporate citizen," Ms. Singleton said.
The new PAC contributes to both Republicans and Democrats in various areas of the state. It doesn't limit itself to those who sit on committees that directly affect the company or to those who avoid environmental causes. The PAC contributes to legislators who are up for re-election soon and those who won't have to campaign for years.
The new committee is contributing to a number of Houston Democrats, a group that was traditionally outside the Dallas utility's territory.
Old utility monopolies may now do business outside their traditional territories. So legislators can glean contributions from lots of electricity companies, not just the hometown utility.
Further, some Democratic leaders last session opposed legislation that could have limited TXU's market share.
"I'd rather see this bill go down than promote the feint that this is a consumer bill," Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, said during debate about the legislation.
The new PAC gave $10,000 to Mr. Oliveira, a member of the Regulated Industries committee.
The company's contributions also reflect a shift toward the Democratic Party in Texas.
"There was a time there when a lot of people didn't give to us Democrats. So it's a good sign that people who've been outside the rail may be inside the rail," said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who received $5,000 from the new Energy Future PAC.
In January, the new PAC gave $1,000 to one of the seven legislators the TXU PACs skipped last time: Jessica Farrar, D-Houston.
She said she doesn't recall actively soliciting the contribution, she isn't sure which lobbyist sent the cashier's check because there was no business card attached, and she doesn't know why the Energy Future PAC would be attracted to her.
"I have no idea. It's a mystery to me," she said.
The Energy Future committee continues to give to TXU's old friends. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst got $15,000 from the new committee, and Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, a member of the Business and Commerce committee, got $5,000.
Mr. Eltife said he didn't solicit the money but got a call from Energy Future lobbyist Mark Malone.
"He didn't do it any differently than he normally does," Mr. Eltife said. "He said, 'Kevin, I have a check for you,' and I said, 'Mail it to my office.' "
A couple of legislators who were favorites among the TXU PACs were absent from the new committee's list of payees.
Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, chairman of the Business and Commerce committee, hasn't received contributions from the Energy Future committees recently. Mr. Fraser proposed legislation that TXU opposed last session.
Phil King, R-Weatherford, also hasn't received a donation of late. Mr. King sponsored Mr. Fraser's bills in the House but also worked on a compromise with major power companies. Time ran out before Mr. King could get his compromise passed.
Both Mr. Fraser and Mr. King were among the top 11 recipients of money from TXU groups from 2005 to 2006, according to Texans for Public Justice.
"Things have changed," Mr. King said.
Mr. King is up for re-election, and his list of contributors is packed with energy and electricity companies, since he is chairman of the Regulated Industries committee.
But this time, he asked the Energy Future political action committees not to donate to his campaign. He said he even declined a check one of the groups offered to send because he doubts the company will agree with his position next session.