Opponents of Proposition K have spent more than $1 million in recent weeks campaigning against the measure on El Paso’s May 6 ballot, a sum that dwarfed the amount supporters have spent to advocate in favor of the Climate Charter.
Since late March, three separate political action committees have spent money on television commercials, mailers and even a mobile truck billboard to convince El Paso voters to oppose the Climate Charter. The 2,500-word collection of wide-ranging policies – whose supporters say is an ambitious attempt to address climate change – seeks to push El Paso’s city government to do things like adopt more solar energy, closely track local pollution sources and conserve the city’s water.
The El Paso Chamber created a political action committee – called El Pasoans for Prosperity – that spent $486,373 over the last month campaigning against Proposition K.
“The El Paso Chamber received contributions from a variety of businesses, representing over 7,000 employees, and we have a list of over 100 businesses who have signed on to publicly oppose Prop K,” Andrea Hutchins, president and CEO of the El Paso Chamber, said in an email. “When business leaders read the Charter, and understand the nuance of the language, the alarm bells go off.”
A Houston-based organization called Consumer Energy Alliance, which is made up of numerous companies and advocacy groups across the utility and oil and gas industries, spent more than $548,000 since late March on campaign materials opposing the Climate Charter. Its members include entities such as Chevron, pipeline giant Energy Transfer and the Texas Oil & Gas Association.
“The fact that Proposition K could harm families and small businesses across the country by setting a terrible precedent merited a proportional campaign to ensure this dangerous, costly, and misguided proposal is defeated,” Matthew Gonzales, campaign treasurer for the CEA PAC, said in a statement.
Another political action committee called The Libre Initiative got involved late in the campaign. The PAC, which is an arm of Americans for Prosperity, a libertarian advocacy group founded by the Koch family, spent a little more than $14,000 on a mobile billboard truck urging voters to oppose Proposition K.
Meanwhile, the Ground Game Texas PAC – established by Ground Game Texas, an Austin-based advocacy group that has supported the Climate Charter campaign – reported spending more than $11,000 in the period spanning March 28 through April 26. The PAC said it ended the period with nearly $40,000 in unspent campaign funds.
“Powerful fossil fuel oligarchs at a local and national level are terrified of El Pasoans’ ability to determine their fate with this election,” said Christian Marquardt, communications coordinator for Sunrise El Paso, the main group backing Proposition K. “We hope that El Pasoans see the difference in spending as a sign of the power dynamics and why we need to have a voice in the use of our natural resources and public utilities.”
The El Pasoans for Prosperity PAC received three donations from El Paso Electric totaling $200,000. EPE has said it opposes Proposition K largely because of one provision in the measure that would require the city to examine bringing the investor-owned utility under the city’s ownership. The utility has also warned that another policy in the Climate Charter would halt the sale of city-owned water to some of El Paso Electric’s power plants and prevent them from operating.
Ohio-based Marathon Petroleum Corp., which owns the oil refinery north of Ascarate Park, donated $150,000 to fight Proposition K. One rule in the Climate Charter would have the city track air pollution in the region and produce an annual report, which Proposition K proponents say will ensure the refinery isn’t producing more emissions than allowed.
Since late March, the El Paso Chamber PAC also received $21,000 from Jobe Materials, the El Paso-based construction materials company. And it collected $10,000 donations each from the El Paso Association of Contractors, Tropicana Home Builders and from Pizza Properties, a company that owns and operates numerous franchised restaurants in El Paso such as Peter Piper Pizza and Boss Tenders, Dogs and Custard.
The companies that contributed to the El Pasoans for Prosperity PAC did not respond to questions for this article. On its website, the El Paso Association of Contractors has a page explaining the group’s opposition to Proposition K: “Although things may look good ‘on paper’ — good intentions without a real-world assessment of the effects on real people and businesses is a bad idea,” the group wrote.
“These businesses are not opposed to spending money on improving our climate,” Hutchins said. “They are, however, opposed to the costly consequences of poorly written legislation that will do more to harm our economic climate than it will to improve it.”
The Austin-based Texas Realtors Issues PAC also contributed $98,000 of in-kind contributions to the El Pasoans for Prosperity PAC, which funded some mailers and a television commercial, according to campaign finance records.
The El Paso Chamber’s PAC paid the Austin-based firm Murphy Nasica just over $486,000 for advertising, printing and consulting services. Murphy Nasica’s former clients include Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas House Republican Caucus.
The Consumer Energy Alliance PAC listed one donor: its parent organization, the Consumer Energy Alliance. The PAC spent over $43,000 in April to send text messages to El Paso voters, and more than $158,000 on television ads that aired on the El Paso-area Univision station, as well as on KVIA, KDBC and KFOX.
Campaign flyers and TV commercials funded by the El Paso Chamber and CEA have often cited a Chamber-commissioned study conducted by an Idaho consulting firm, which concluded the Climate Charter would cause a major electricity shortage in El Paso that would shut the lights off for much of the city and force businesses to close. Over half of the city’s jobs would be wiped out by 2030 as a result, according to the Points Consulting study.
But that study – the basis for claims on campaign materials that the passage of Proposition K would cost El Paso $9 billion and destroy 170,000 jobs by 2030 – was “fundamentally flawed” according to researchers at an Austin-based energy consultancy who reviewed the study. The city would be unlikely to experience extreme job losses in the next few years from transitioning to cleaner energy. And the city could import electricity from elsewhere to avoid a potential energy shortage, according to the researchers.
The Ground Game Texas PAC since late March directly collected about 200 mostly small-dollar donations that totaled $27,601. Two people living in El Paso donated a total of $80 to the PAC.
But other El Pasoans made donations in support of the Climate Charter directly to Ground Game Texas, rather than to the organization’s PAC. Ground Game Texas collected donations from 78 people living in El Paso that totaled just under $3,100, according to the organization. Those donations appear on the campaign finance disclosure as coming from Ground Game Texas.
From late March through April 26, the Ground Game Texas PAC reported spending around $7,000 to print flyers promoting Proposition K.
Dominic Chacon, a spokesperson for Sunrise El Paso, said it is small-dollar donors who “are funding this movement.”
“And that’s who we’re accountable (to)”, he said.
Gonzales, treasurer of the Consumer Energy Alliance PAC, is also the mayor of Cimarron, New Mexico, a small town about 50 miles south of the Colorado stateline. Supporters of the Climate Charter asked why a New Mexico mayor is leading a PAC that in the last month has spent over half a million dollars campaigning in an El Paso city election.
Gonzales said the Consumer Energy Alliance is getting involved in the El Paso election because Proposition K, he said, will make energy less affordable and reliable, and increase taxes for El Paso households.
“The wealthy opposition want to portray this campaign as outsiders,” Marquardt said. “These ‘outsider’ claims are a projection of the opposition’s own outsider identity trying to dismiss our homegrown efforts.”
Disclosure: El Paso Electric Co. is a financial supporter of El Paso Matters. Financial supporters play no role in El Paso Matters’ journalism.