"Texas' Oil Empire: Drilling Into Power, Money & Ethics"
Most Texans would be forgiven for not knowing what the state's Railroad Commission does, or how the commission's chair — Christi Craddick — and her politically prominent family earn money off hundreds of oil and natural gas leases checkered across the state — part of the same industry she was elected to regulate. As oil production has boomed and the Craddick family's oil wealth has increased, so has their political clout. When Christi assumed office in 2013, it ensured the Craddick name would be one of the most powerful and widely-renowned in the state's history. To avoid the roadblock of paying thousands of dollars on public information requests and industry website subscriptions, KXAN journeyed hundreds of miles to Craddick's hometown of Midland and nearly a dozen other isolated communities on the west Texas plains. Our team of investigators scoured county courthouses in person, sifting through internal computer databases and leather-bound books for mineral and royalty deeds, trusts and more. The weeklong effort underscored how public records are often not easily and readily available to the public and how politicians' personal financial disclosures don't always provide the whole truth. The records laid bare not only the breadth of the Craddick family's holdings but also the complexity of its oil and gas leases and profits. Comparing the results of that research to matters brought before the Railroad Commission, KXAN found Craddick has voted on items that appear to overlap with specific leases in which she and her family have financial stakes. Our review of meeting minutes reveals no disclosures of possible conflicts of interest. KXAN discovered, since the start of 2014, Craddick voted at least 320 times on agenda items brought by companies that pay her and her family royalties or dividends, according to her personal financial disclosures. We also found she cast more than 100 votes on enforcement actions against those companies. But it would be impossible to know the extent of her interests, as KXAN found ethics filings fail to paint a complete picture of the Craddick family's widespread, complex and longstanding oil and gas holdings. Policy experts and a legislator KXAN spoke with say the state should strengthen its ethics and transparency rules for railroad commissioners, and they plan to push for changes in the 2019 legislative session.
Submitted by Josh Hinkle