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Ban’s foes far outspend proponents

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-WolfeStaff Writer
By Peggy Heinkel-WolfeStaff Writer

Fracking ban proposal on city ballot prompts $772,000 in donations

The record books will likely stay inked for a while: A proposal to ban hydraulic fracturing in the city has spurred more than $772,000 in political donations, the most expensive campaign in Denton’s history.

And there’s still one week to go.

Opponents of the fracking ban have far outraised and outspent the proponents, according to the latest round of campaign finance reports filed with the Denton city secretary.

Between Sept. 26 and Oct. 25, the specific-purpose committee Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy, which opposes the ban, reported another $466,395 in contributions, bringing its fundraising total to $697,458.

During the same time period, specific-purpose committee Pass the Ban raised another $24,004, for a total of $74,974.

In a press release, Bobby Jones of Denton Taxpayers said the group was proud to disclose its Denton-taxpaying donors.

“Every day, as people study and learn about this issue, folks are opposed to an arbitrary drilling ban that will hurt our economy,” Jones said in the prepared statement.

Chevron and Occidental Petroleum joined previous big-ticket donors EnerVest, XTO Energy and Devon Energy in making political contributions. Chevron donated $45,000 and Occidental, $50,000. According to city records, neither Chevron nor Occidental operate any gas wells in Denton.

XTO doubled its previous $75,000 contribution to $150,000. Devon and EnerVest both wrote three additional checks to the campaign in the past month totaling $120,000, bringing their total contributions to $195,000 each.

Denton Taxpayers also listed about 60 other individual donors, many from Houston and Oklahoma, in this second round of reports. Six individual donors with Denton addresses contributed a total of $210 in the past month to Denton Taxpayers.

Pass the Ban’s largest contributors in the past month included the Denton Drilling Awareness Group and Earthworks.

Ed Soph, who serves as treasurer for Pass the Ban, said that the Denton Drilling Awareness Group received many donations from people who wanted to help the cause before the proposition election was called in July.

As a nonprofit group, the Denton Drilling Awareness Group is not required to disclose individual donors. The group made a $6,000 transfer to the specific-purpose committee on Oct. 24, near the end of the reporting period.

After some trouble at local polling sites, Pass the Ban plans on printing up cards to clear up any confusion.

“We’ll be distributing them so that people can understand the ballot language,” Soph said.

Earthworks made another in-kind contribution — $10,345 for a mailing in the past month — on behalf of Pass the Ban.

Earthworks officials have said the money that national nonprofit has spent to help Pass the Ban, about $40,000 so far, was donated specifically for the fracking ban proposition, with more than 90 percent of those donations coming from Denton residents. Campaign finance laws do not require Earthworks to disclose those individual donors.

In all, Pass the Ban reported another 25 individual donors during the past month, 18 of them with Denton addresses who contributed a total of $3,719.

Denton Taxpayers spent $344,446 during the latest reporting period, most through The Eppstein Group in Fort Worth. The expenses included billboards, television and social media advertising, more than $100,000 on direct mail and another $22,000 on “voter contact.” The group also reported online campaign donation expenses through San Francisco-based Stripe.

Pass the Ban spent $15,226, most on advertisements, fliers and phone calls.

Both groups also reported holding contributions, ostensibly to help pay expenses for the final week of the campaign. Denton Taxpayers was holding about $167,000 as of Saturday; Pass the Ban, about $14,000.

Not all of the money being spent to sway the election is being reported as such. Campaign finance rules permit “educational groups” such as Clean Resources, North Texans for Natural Gas and the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council to mail informational fliers, hold neighborhood meetings and place advertising in social media without reporting it as political spending.

Supporters of other propositions on the ballot, including one to allow liquor sales, also reported contributions and expenses for the past month.

Denton First, which supports the proposition to make Denton wet, spent about $3,500 with Texas Petition Strategies, a consulting group that helped local bar owners and others get the proposition on the ballot.

Building a Better Denton spent about $3,133 on advertisements, street and yard signs in support of the four propositions calling for $98.2 million in general obligation bonds to pay for rebuilding city streets and other public improvements.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.