About Air and Water

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Art Hall Accepts Thousands From Valero PAC, Employees

Hall Previously Claimed Valero Told Him His Wife's Position With The Firm Constituted No Conflict Of Interest
Vince Leibowitz - February 28, 2008

AUSTIN--Former San Antonio City Councilman Art Hall has accepted more than $5,000 in contributions from Valero Energy's political action committee and several of its employees, according to records from the Texas Ethics Commission.

On February 8, Hall received a $5,000 contribution from the Valero Political Action Committee, a PAC notorious for giving thousands of dollars to Texas' most conservative Republicans-- and Railroad Commissioner Michael L. Williams, the man Hall and Dale Henry (D-Lampasas) seek to replace in the November general election.

In addition to the $5,000 from Valero's PAC, Hall also took more than $2,000 from Valero employees and attorneys in late January and February. According to Hall's most recent filing with the Texas Ethics Commission, he received the following contributions from Valero employees and attorneys:

Robert Bower, Valero Attorney, $500 2/23
Theodore Guidry, Valero employee, $500, 1/26
Diane Hirsch, Valero Attorney, $300, 2/23
Martin Loeber, Valero Attorney, $500, 2/23
Rich Walsh, Valero Attorney, $1,500, 2/23
Parker Wilson, Valero Attorney, $500, 2/23

"The money that Art Hall has accepted from Valero's PAC and its employees is especially troubling given the fact that he is very connected to Valero through the fact that his wife is an attorney for Valero," said Vince Leibowitz, campaign director for Dale Henry, Hall's principal opponent.

According to Hall's Personal Financial Statement on file with the Texas Ethics Commission, Hall's wife owns between 5,000 and 9,999 shares of stock in Valero which, if sold, would represent a net gain of $10,000 to $24,999.

"All of this is especially disturbing given the fact that Art Hall is actually getting advice from Valero on what constitutes a conflict of interest for his campaign," said Leibowitz.

At a forum in Decatur on January 29, Hall was asked if he believed it constituted a conflict of interest that his wife, Stephanie Hall, is an attorney for Valero considering the Railroad Commission regulates the oil and gas industry. Hall told the audience that he had contacted Valero and that he was advised by the company that her work would not constitute a conflict of interest for him.

"Art Hall is getting ethics advice and money from Valero energy. What else is he getting from them? Are they advising him on energy policy as well? Art Hall represents no departure from the current rubber-stamp culture at the Texas Railroad Commission where Commissioners take thousands of dollars from oil company PACs and their employees and then give them whatever they want without regard for the best interest of Texas consumers or the environment," Leibowitz said.

"Valero's PAC is notorious for giving large sums of money to Republicans and pet conservative causes," Leibowitz said. "Valero has given Railroad Commissioner Michael L. Williams $20,000. Now Art Hall is taking Valero's money and telling Texans that he will bring 'balance' to the Texas Railroad Commission. What kind of 'balance' is that, exactly? The kind of 'balance' where Hall will simply be another hand out taking money from the oil industry? That's not 'balance,' that is merely more of the same," Leibowitz continued.

Valero has given incumbent Railroad Commissioner Michael L. Williams $10,000 on two occasions: once less than a year ago on June 28, 2007, and once on June 7, 2002. Valero has also contributed to some of Texans most anti-consumer, counter-progressive Republicans and Republican causes.

The company's PAC gave $15,000 to Tom Craddick's "Stars Over Texas" Leadership PAC ($10,000 on 10/11/06 and $5,000 on 10/25/04), and $30,000 to Speaker Craddick's personal campaign account since 2004 ($10,000 on 11/08/05 and $10,000 on 11/5/07, and $10,000 on 11/10/04). A small sampling of Valero's contributions to Republicans include:

Texas Conservative Coalition ($2,500 on 9/10/07)
Former State Rep. Joe Nixon ($1,000 on 3/5/04)
Lt. Governor David Dewhurst ($10,000 on 11/6/03)
Attorney General Greg Abbott ($10,000 on 7/11/03)
Railroad Commissioner Victor Carrillo ($5,000 on 1/29/04)
U.S. Senator John Cornyn ($2,500 while Cornyn was Texas' AG on 11/7/2000)
State Rep. Phil King ($2,500 on 10/23/07)
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples ($5,000 on 11/27/07)
Former State Rep. Talmadge Heflin ($1,000 on 11/9/04)

The Valero-tied contributions aren't the only suspect contributions Hall has received as a candidate. While on the San Antonio City Council, Hall accepted money from executives and employees of the HB Zachry company, a San Antonio-based company which has paired with Spanish company Cintra and, in March 2005, signed a comprehensive development agreement authorizing $3.5 million in planning for the first phase of the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor. Hall accepted a $500 contribution from HB Zachry on April 26, 2005 and a $250 contribution from J.P. Zachry on August 8, 2005. As a San Antonio City Councilman, Hall also took money from Valero's PAC on May 3, 2005 ($500).

At the January 29 forum in Decatur, Hall also failed to state a position on a question that asked whether or not he favored continued development of the Trans-Texas Corridor, which will include "designated utility zones" which will facilitate the transport of oil and natural gas and could have a significant negative impact on Texas' environment and groundwater.

Henry faces Art Hall of San Antonio and Mark Thompson of Hamilton in the March 4 Democratic Primary. The winner of the March 4 Democratic Primary will face Commissioner Michael L. Williams in the general election.

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