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‘The Wild West Of Money In Politics’: Dakota Access Pipeline Builder Spends Millions To Influence Elections

Posted in Journalism, and MintPress News

Originally published at MintPress News.

AUSTIN, Texas — The corporation behind the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline also operates its own political action committee that has a record of donating to the campaigns of candidates who support the company’s pro-corporate, pro-fossil fuels agenda in Congress.

However, the political war chest of the Energy Transfer Partners PAC amounts to pennies compared to the wealth of Kelcy Warren, the chairman and CEO, who has spent millions becoming one of the most politically powerful oil tycoons in Texas.

“Unlike the federal system, here in the state of Texas, for state candidates, there are no limits on campaign contributions. We call it the Wild West of money in politics,” Andrew Wheat told MintPress News.

Wheat is the research director for Texans for Public Justice, an Austin-based nonprofit that tracks the influence of money and corporate power in Lone Star State politics, and he identified Warren as one of the state’s most influential donors.

“In many ways, it defeats the need for, or purpose of, a political action committee,” Wheat said. “Here in Texas, it’s Kelcy Warren himself who’s moving huge amounts of money that probably dwarf anything they’re doing at the federal level.”

Hundreds of Native American tribes are gathered at the Sacred Stone Camp, an ongoing protest against the Dakota Access pipeline that would transport crude oil from the North Dakota Bakken region to Patoka, Illinois. Opponents say sacred sites have been desecrated during construction of the pipeline which crosses Native American lands, and the pipeline poses a severe threat to waterways.

Activists opposed to the potentially devastating environmental effects of the Dakota Access pipeline and similar projects face not just the bulldozers and attack dogs used in its construction, but years of political graft that ensure that these projects face few, if any, legislative hurdles to approval.

Rep. Kevin Brady (Wikimedia Commons)
Rep. Kevin Brady (Wikimedia Commons)

OpenSecrets, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics, reports that the Energy Transfer Partners PAC has spent $288,209 during the 2016 election cycle, according to figures released by the Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday. Republicans have received the lion’s share, with about $133,500 of that spending ending up as campaign contributions for GOP candidates vying for spots in the House and Senate.

The top individual recipients of Energy Transfer Partners funds were a pair of influential Republican congressmen from Texas, both of whom have reputations for denying or downplaying the threat of climate change.

Kevin Brady, a representative of the state’s 8th District and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, received $15,000 from the PAC. In an August 2013 post on his website, Brady is quoted as saying: “No matter what you call it, climate change or global warming, it’s not the most important thing for American families.”

Pete Olson, a representative of the state’s 22nd District and a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, received $12,000 in donations from Energy Transfer Partners. Olson is a vocal opponent of controls on emissions of greenhouse gases and the Paris climate treaty.

So far, the Dallas-based energy corporation’s spending is down from the 2014 election cycle, when the PAC spent $581,317.

Unhindered by campaign spending controls, Wheat suggested Texas politics reveal even more about the political ambitions of Energy Transfer Partners and its CEO. He said:

If I look at some of the numbers we’ve run, in the calendar year of 2015, which was for an off-year politically, Mr. Warren ranked about number 25 in terms of donors in this state, moving close to $500,000 to state candidates and PACs. In the 2014 cycle, he moved close to $1 million.

Rep. Pete Olson (Wikimedia Commons)
Rep. Pete Olson (Wikimedia Commons)

Wheat added that Warren is the fourth largest donor to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Since 2013, Warren has donated close to $700,000 on Abbott’s campaigns, Wheat said, citing figures from Texans for Public Justice. Last November, Warren was given a seat on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission — seats which Wheat says are saved for some of the governor’s most generous and influential campaign donors. Warren also put millions into former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s second failed campaign for president.

Beyond the simple thirst for power, there’s a key parallel in Energy Transfer Partners’ actions in Texas and on the national level. Energy Transfer’s Trans-Pecos Pipeline project would carry natural gas from West Texas to Mexico, where it would be used to supply electricity. Along its 143-mile route, it would pass through environmentally-sensitive Big Bend region.

In order to build the Trans-Pecos and Dakota Access pipelines, Energy Transfer Partners has made use of eminent domain laws to force private landowners to give up access to their property.

“So you’ve got ranchers in West Texas who are having the power of eminent domain invoked to supply natural gas to a state-owned power company in Mexico,” Wheat explained.

Oil transported by the Dakota Access pipeline is also likely destined for export to foreign markets. Wheat suggested this reveals the hypocrisy of the GOP, which traditionally claims to support the rights of private landowners.

“It doesn’t sit well with conservatives, and yet, legally speaking, there’s little anyone can do to block these kind of proposals,” he concluded.

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