This year's midterm election was the most expensive in U.S. history. Over $5 billion dollars were spent in this election cycle. This incredible sum dwarfs even the historic $1 billion spent in the 2008 presidential elections.
Unfortunately this influx of cash is not coming from concerned voters. Instead, its coming from transnational corporations which do not have the voters best interest in mind. Even more disturbing is how much of this spending is concentrated and untraceable.
Contributions from the fossil fuel industry played a large role in this historic spending, and Texas politicians are at the eye of the storm. In the entire U.S. Congress, the top two recipients of fossil fuel industry contributions are from Texas. Together Senator John Cornyn and Congressman Joe Barton have received almost $4 million from dirty energy companies. Unfortunately the campaign coffers of many other Central Texas congressmen are also lined with industry coal and oil money-Democrat and Republican alike.
Congressman Michael Conaway has received 688K while Congressman Gene Green has received 507K of dirty energy money.
These campaign contributions from corporate polluters raise an important question: How does this money affect the way members of Congress vote? If there is no effect, why does the fossil fuel industry continue to spend millions to fund the campaigns of Texas politicians?
Of course, common sense tells us that the money does indeed influence our politicians' votes.
From 2002 to 2008 the U.S. Congress gave $72 billion dollars of taxpayer to dirty energy companies. During that same period of time, federal subsidies for traditional renewable energy sources were only $29 billion. Almost half of the $29 billion went to support corn based ethanol production, a false solution to our energy and climate dilemmas and another big industry adept at lining Congressional coffers.
In addition to voting on subsidies, royalties, and tax policy worth billions of dollars to dirty energy companies, Congress also votes on federal energy and climate policy. The main reason we were unable to pass reasonable, science-based climate legislation last year was the influence of polluting industries on our politics.
The fossil fuel industry is spending big on state level elections as well. The Sunlight Foundation reported the industry has given money to over 400 state level politicians in Texas-a national high. Topping the list is Governor Rick Perry, who has received $129K of dirty energy money.
The influx of cash makes sense. Gov. Perry appoints the commissioners to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the body responsible for issuing many of the permits needed for power plants, refineries, and other polluters to operate. The commissioners are supposed to evaluate whether a community can bear more pollution based on current air quality standards. It is their responsibility to deny the permit in areas where pollution levels are already too high.
Unfortunately TCEQ commissioners are not heeding the advice of experts and administrative law judges who have unanimously recommended that permits should be denied for 12 proposed coal-fired power plants in Texas. Rather than making decisions in the best interest of the communities that will bear the cost of this new pollution, TCEQ is playing politics and doing the bidding of dirty energy companies.
Our elected officials like Cornyn, Barton and Perry should make decisions which help Texas build a strong economy based on clean renewable energy. Until Texas politicians stop accepting millions of dollars from the fossil fuel industry, we're likely to see more policies which encourage our continued reliance on polluting fossil fuels.
Texas' leaders should remember that their job is to represent Texans-not