When it comes to the money in Texas politics, individual donors typically snag all the flashy headlines. Deep pockets writing big checks is a surefire way to get people paying attention. And perhaps that’s why many powerful industry leaders prefer for their contributions to go a little more under the radar.
In the final installation of our series, we’re exploring the money donated to Texas politicians by executives of green energy companies. These numbers aren’t flashy. In fact, most of the donations are less than $1000. But in conjunction with the other sources of investment from their organizations, executives’ personal donations offer a hint at which candidates might be most favorable to the interests (and lobbying activity) of the green energy sector.
So far, we’ve looked at two primary sources of monetary influence from Texas’ green energy sector: lobbying and PAC spending. Together, they work to create a more advantageous climate for operation in Texas.
The biggest line item is lobbying, with more than $71 million spent since 2015. With fewer limits and less stringent reporting requirements than campaign finance, lobbying is a more enticing option for organizations looking to make their interests heard. Plus, for the green energy sector, the ROI on those lobbying dollars are worth the investment, earning government subsidies worth more than 76 times what will have been spent on lobbying over the same period.
On the campaign finance side, green energy-related PACs have spent an additional $8 million since 2015. Individual donors are the other piece of the contributions equation.
During elections, individual donors join political groups and committees in funding their favorite candidates and causes. While individual donors range the political and socioeconomic spectrum, industry executives from green energy companies are among those who have contributed to their preferred candidates.
These are some of the top executives of companies in the Texas green energy lobby, along with the top three candidates they have supported since 2015.
|Executive||Company||Title||Top Three Candidates Supported (Four when tied)|
|Chris M. Crane||Exelon Corporation||President and CEO||George P. Bush – $1,037|
|Suzanne Bertin||Advanced Energy Economy DBA Texas Advanced Energy Business Alliance||Managing Director||Kelly Hancock – $500|
Cesar Blanco – $500
Ana Hernandez – $500
|Sano Blocker||Vistra Energy Corp||Senior Vice President of Government Affairs||Byron Cook – $1,301|
Kelly Hancock – $1,000
Phil King – $500
Garnet Coleman – $500
|Darla Figoli||Xcel Energy / Southwestern Public Service Company||Executive Vice President, Human Resources & Employee Services, Chief Human Resources Officer||Ken King – $300|
|David Hudson||Xcel Energy / Southwestern Public Service Company||President, Xcel Energy – New Mexico, Texas||John Frullo – $1,000|
Four Price – $600
Charles Perry – $500
Ken King – $500
|Charlie Hemmeline||Texas Solar Power Association||Executive Director||Stephen Kling – $100 |
Kim Olson – $100
John Turner – $100
|Randy Cain||Wind Coalition||Public Policy Consultant||Glenn Hegar – $2,500|
Steve Allison – $2,100
Dan Flynn – $1,650
|Edward Fenster||Sunrun Inc||Executive Chairman||Kelly Hancock – $2,500|
Dade Phelan – $1,500
|John Billingsley||Tri Global Energy||Chairman and CEO||Linda Koop – $2,500|
Cindy Burkett – $2,500
|Ryan Castleman||Castleman Power Development LLC||CEO||Dennis Bonnen – $10,000|
Carol Alvarado – $2,500
|Tuan Pham||PowerFin Partners LLC||President||Byron Cook – $750|
Beth Payan – $155
|Matt Welch||Conservative Texans for Energy Innovation Foundation||State Director||Angela Paxton – $250|
|Steven Vavrik||Broad Reach Power LLC||Managing Partner & Chief Executive Officer||Kelly Hancock – $500|
|Shelley Eichenlaub||Broad Reach Power LLC||Managing Counsel||Anna Eastman – $1,648|
|Mark Klein||Broad Reach Power LLC||Managing Partner & Chief Operating Officer||Kelly Hancock – $500|
|Paul Choi||Broad Reach Power LLC||Executive Vice President||Kelly Hancock – $500|
|Jay Faison||ClearPath Action for Conservative Clean Energy Inc||Founder||George P. Bush – $102|
The contributions from green energy executives have gone to candidates running for executive, legislative, and judicial positions. The total donation amount from these 17 industry executives we’ve highlighted was a mere $41,193 to their top candidates over a six-year period. In many instances, there was only one Texas candidate that received contributions from an executive over that time period.
Where PAC donations tended to benefit statewide officeholders like Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, those names are absent here. Instead, Land Commissioner George P. Bush appears several times, as do legislators like State Senator Kelly Hancock and House Rep. Ken King. The largest donation was a $10,000 contribution to Dennis Bonnen in 2018 by Ryan Castleman of Castleman Power Development. A handful of $2500 and $1000 dollar donations also made the list, but most were a few hundred dollars at most.
None of the included contributions would land these executives anywhere near a Who’s Who list for Texas donors. And that’s probably intentional. Large sums of money from prominent industry leaders tend to draw accusations of undue influence on the decision-making of state leadership. Whether they are true or not.
And to be clear, personal donations from individuals to candidates are neither illegal nor necessarily unethical. Big donations just have a way of putting the donor — and their business — under a microscope.
But small donations are still a valuable tool, once you know to look for them. Unremarkable on their own, they are a helpful guide within the context of the larger lobbying conversation. Current reporting requirements for Texas lobbyists include listing clients along with prospective compensation for the year. There is no obligation to include any clarifying information on what that lobbying activity looks like or who the lobbyists might be talking to.
Executive donor data offers a glimpse at which lawmakers green energy executives might consider open to creating a better environment for their sector in Texas. The candidates receiving those contributions know it too. Whether they are truly in favor of supporting green energy policies cannot be construed by reading numbers from a database — anyone can give to a candidate, after all — but the donation is a knock at the door. And while in office, that lawmaker might just decide to let their lobbyist into the room.