A month out from the May 6 city election, more than $95,000 in donations have flowed into the race to decide whether El Paso’s city government should adopt policies to more aggressively address climate change.
Campaign finance reports filed Thursday showed the political action committee backing the Climate Charter was funded entirely by donors living outside of El Paso. Meanwhile, the reports showed El Paso Electric is the largest funder of a PAC opposing the Climate Charter.
The Climate Charter’s backers say it is a local movement, despite extensive help from an Austin-based advocacy group.
“The campaign is run by El Pasoans and the policy was drafted by El Pasoans,” the Climate Charter Coalition said in a statement, referring to the tens of thousands of El Pasoans who signed a petition last year to place the measure on the ballot.
Proposition K, also called the Climate Charter, is one of several propositions on the May 6 ballot, but it’s the one that’s generated the most controversy. The measure would implement numerous new policies into the El Paso City Charter, which broadly aim to have the local government reduce pollution in the region and shift the city to greater reliance on clean energy sources like solar.
But the lengthy Climate Charter contains around a dozen separate, detailed policies with wide-ranging effects. Groups such as the El Paso Chamber have said it would destroy the city’s economy, citing a study that it paid an Idaho consultant to conduct.
The El Paso Chamber established a political action committee – called “El Pasoans for Prosperity” – that has sent out texts and mailers telling voters not to pass Prop K. As of March 27, the PAC had received two donations: $50,000 from El Paso Electric, and a $4,500 contribution from the Eastside-based equipment supplier Sierra Machinery.
The Climate Charter Coalition criticized El Paso Electric’s role in funding opposition efforts.
“We are not at all surprised that JP Morgan Chase bank’s El Paso Electric Co. is funding an opposition campaign to our community’s inspiring climate action project,” the statement from the Climate Charter Coalition read. “This is what a bank-owned utility company like El Paso Electric does. This is what a special interest, fossil fuel-associated group like the El Paso Chamber does.”
El Paso Electric has voiced strong opposition to Prop K, which includes one policy that would have the city examine bringing the investor-owned electric utility under the city’s ownership.
“We’ve gotten more contributions since (March 27). And they come from a variety of sources, from local associations to smaller contractors,” Andrea Hutchins, CEO of the El Paso Chamber, said in an interview. “The business community just continued to reach out and say, ‘Somebody’s got to do something about this.’”
Meanwhile, Ground Game Texas, the Austin-based advocacy group that worked with Sunrise El Paso to craft the Climate Charter, disclosed that it raised just over $41,000 as of March 27.
Almost $30,000 of the contributions in that report are in-kind – or non-monetary – donations from Ground Game and the Sunrise Movement, a nationwide organization battling climate change and urging support of the Green New Deal.
The organization reported receiving about $11,000 in small-dollar donations from 389 people located around the country. None of the donors live in El Paso, according to the campaign finance report.
“They haven’t received a single donation from anyone in El Paso,” Hutchins said. Meanwhile, the El Paso Chamber, she said, is representing businesses “that employ thousands and thousands of jobs in El Paso, versus nobody employed in El Paso.”
The Houston-based Consumer Energy Alliance is also registered as a political action committee for the May 6 election, and it sent out a text earlier this week urging voters to oppose Prop K.
The CEA, which reported zero contributions as of March 27, is made up of numerous major companies and advocates for the utility and energy industries, such as Exxon, Centerpoint Energy and the Texas Oil & Gas Association. In the text message it sent, CEA cited the El Paso Chamber-commissioned study that claimed that the Climate Charter would wipe out half the jobs in the city if passed by voters.
The campaign treasurer for CEA, Matthew Gonzales, did not respond to a request for comment.
Both opponents and supporters of Proposition K are using money from El Paso Electric to make their case.
El Paso Electric in 2021 settled a dispute with a group of environmentalists and locals in Chaparral who sought to block an expansion of the nearby gas-fired Newman Power Station. Part of the settlement, which allowed the expansion to proceed, included a $400,000 payment from El Paso Electric to the Chaparral community group, which used a portion of that money to get the Proposition K campaign off the ground.
The donation from the Chaparral group to form the Climate Charter campaign totaled more than $100,000, according to the Texas Tribune.
“We thought when we gave them the money, that that money would be used for beautification, parks, stuff for their community,” said Kelly Tomblin, El Paso Electric CEO. “Not to fight us.”
The three PACs that issued disclosures – run by Ground Game Texas, the El Paso Chamber and the CEA – must report the additional donations they’ve received by April 28.
The city is holding several community-wide meetings through April 20 to share information on the different propositions on the ballot.
Disclosure: El Paso Electric Co. is financial supporter of El Paso Matters. Financial supporters play no role in El Paso Matters’ journalism.