Skip to Navigation Skip to Main Content

$500,000 spent trying to turn tide just before vote

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe

Energy industry supporters spent more than $500,000 in the final days of an unsuccessful $1.1 million campaign to defeat Denton’s ban on fracking, according to campaign finance reports filed Thursday.

The amount dwarfs not only the $76,000 spent by the ban’s proponents but also the other $92,000 spent by other local political committees that supported new liquor laws and a city bond package.

With more than $1.2 million raised and spent, November’s election will likely stay in the record books as the most expensive in the city’s history for a long time to come.

Semiannual finance reports filed this week showed that Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy raised nearly $1.1 million to spend through the Eppstein Group, a public relations group in Fort Worth, on mailings, advertising and phone calls to defeat the ban. Denton Taxpayers could not be reached for comment. The group’s outgoing message said the voice mail box was full.

In the final days before the election, Devon Energy contributed another $155,000, and Chevron $105,000. EnerVest and XTO each contributed $55,000 in an attempt to defeat the ban.

Oklahoma-based Devon Energy was, by far, the opposition’s biggest contributor, with $350,000 in total contributions since the proposition election was called in July. EnerVest donated $250,000; XTO, $205,000; Chevron, $150,000; and Occidental, $50,000.

According to city records, neither Chevron nor Occidental operate any gas wells in Denton.

Denton Taxpayers reported about $22,000 in political contributions still in the bank. The group has not filed an affidavit of dissolution, according to city records.

However, all three other local political committees did file such affidavits with their semiannual reports, which closes the books on their campaigns.

Building a Better Denton reported about $4,000 raised and spent to support the city’s four-part, $92 million bond package, which passed.

Denton First reported no additional expenses beyond the $88,000 raised and spent early in the campaign, most of which went to get a liquor proposition on the ballot. Denton voters also overwhelmingly approved lifting restrictions on liquor sales in the city.

Pass the Ban reported additional expenses, but raised just $557 in additional contributions in the final days of the campaign supporting the ban on fracking.

“We pretty much used what we had and once we saw where the vote was, we didn’t ask anyone for more,” said Ed Soph, who was co-treasurer of the committee.

Even though the committee has dissolved, Soph said he expects local activists will start another campaign soon to help pay for the ban’s defense.

Within hours after Denton voters overwhelmingly approved the ban, both the state and the oil and gas industry sued to block its enforcement. The Texas Oil and Gas Association filed a lawsuit challenging the ban, which went into effect Dec. 2. The Texas General Land Office, through then-Commissioner Jerry Patterson, also sued in a Travis County court.

In the state’s case, a hearing for change of venue has been scheduled on Feb. 18.

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