Barry Smitherman's Stint on the Texas Railroad Commission Is a Magnificent Fundraising Tool

The flier after the jump is for a fundraiser to benefit Railroad Commission of Texas Chair Barry Smitherman, who is vying to replace Greg Abbott as our next state attorney general. We point this out not because it is illegal or in any way surprising, but because it is legal and entirely unsurprising.

This is how people move up the political ladder here in Texas, and especially at the Railroad Commission, a regulatory entity tasked with overseeing oil and gas, gas utilities and pipelines.

The commission was recently referred to by Sunset Advisory Commission as a "springboard" to higher elected office. Aspiring politicians build relationships in the industry they are charged with regulating that will serve them well when the time comes to move on. The Sunset Commission recommended that the near-constant fundraising that goes on in the Railroad Commission be curtailed so that the entire institution wouldn't reek of regulatory capture, which is what happens when the interests of the regulated become indistinguishable from the interests of the regulator. Legislation with that goal got no traction.

So, this is what we end up with: A flier for an Austin fundraiser, listing as committee members and hosts the Atmos Energy PAC, CenterPoint Energy PAC and Exelon PAC, all of which are natural gas utilities, and all of which are regulated by Smitherman.

"There is an old saying in Texas politics that you 'got to dance with them that brung ya,'" Public Citizen Texas director Tom "Smitty" Smith told Unfair Park. "And you can tell a lot about a candidate by looking at who invests in his campaign. If their investments didn't pay off would they continue to invest?"

Smitherman Fundraiser