Utilities spent big on lawmakers

AUSTIN, TEXAS - The possible conclusion of the legislative session without meaningful changes to Texas' electric market will stand as an example of the power of money in politics, critics say.

Whether any measure addressing spiraling electric rates is crafted before the session ends rests largely in the hands of 10 lawmakers picked to steer the negotiations.

Those five senators and five representatives have received a collective $229,553 in donations from utility companies in the last election cycle, according to data compiled by Texans for Public Justice. The donations came from political action committees funded by utilities including TXU, Reliant Energy and Centerpoint Energy.

The two lead negotiators, Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, attracted most of those contributions.

Fraser has received $67,753 since late 2005, $15,000 from TXU alone. King has received $73,450, $10,000 of that from TXU. Each member of the conference committee has received at least $1,750 from TXU-funded PACs in the last election cycle. The contributions to King and Fraser make up 63 percent of the utility-related contributions to the conference committee members. Both lawmakers have said their judgment is not affected by such donations. During the session, TXU has pushed its influence through an army of lobbyists. Legislative staffers described daily visits from TXU lobbyists to lawmakers' offices.

"I think it's a David-and-Goliath scenario we're playing out here at the Capitol," said Ginny Goldman, of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, an activist group concerned about high electric bills. Andrew Wheat, of Texans for Public Justice, said TXU probably had the second-largest lobbying presence this session, behind longtime lobbying leader AT&T. Fraser said that never before in his legislative career has he witnessed a lobby effort like that put forth by TXU and the private-equity companies proposing to buy the utility. "That's the way it's been all along" during the session, he said.


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