DALLAS (KXAN) — Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate for Texas governor, said he’ll use campaign contributions to fight a new lawsuit brought by an energy industry billionaire.
O’Rourke said Kelcy Warren, the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, filed a lawsuit against him in San Saba County alleging defamation. He said the lawsuit reportedly stems from his criticism of Warren’s company making profits during the 2021 winter storm. KXAN is now working to obtain a copy of that lawsuit.
During a news conference Monday afternoon in Dallas, O’Rourke said Warren’s attorneys threatened at least three times about impending consequences for things he kept saying on the campaign trail. The comments in question, O’Rourke said, stemmed from pointing out two things: Energy Transfer Partners making $2.4 billion during the deadly winter storm and Warren donating $1 million to Gov. Greg Abbott’s reelection campaign.
“Not only is he trying to influence the political process through the campaign donations that he’s making, not only did he make illegal windfall profits off the suffering, misery and death of our fellow Texans,” O’Rourke said about Warren, “he’s now trying to shut us down in the courts through a frivolous lawsuit.”
The El Paso Democrat said his campaign will now pay for his legal defense in this case. However, he said he’s optimistic that this won’t hobble his campaign financially for the November general election. During the news conference, O’Rourke also showed slides highlighting several examples of news coverage to back up the claims he said he made during the campaign.
“I honestly don’t think it’s going to cost us a lot because the lawsuit is so frivolous,” O’Rourke told reporters. “I think any judge in the state of Texas is going to see that the facts are clearly supporting the connections that I’ve just made with everyone here today.”
Warren’s company, Energy Transfer Partners, shared the following statement with KXAN Tuesday in response to O’Rourke’s remarks in Dallas:
“Beto O’Rourke clearly hasn’t read or doesn’t understand the lawsuit filed personally by Kelcy Warren. Mr. Warren is not interested in barring Mr. O’Rourke from talking about the winter storm. That is the right of every Texan and every American. What Mr. Warren is interested in stopping are the irresponsible, defamatory and highly offensive statements by Mr. O’Rourke related to his donation to Governor Abbott’s campaign. This is also the right of every Texan and every American to contribute to the campaigns of candidates they support without being defamed in the process. Mr. O’Rourke’s statements are flat-out false, and they appear to have been made for political gain in a desperate attempt to overcome what appears to be a weakening campaign to unseat Governor Abbott.”
O’Rourke reiterated how these issues factor into his key criticisms of Abbott’s handling of the winter storm last year.
“I want to make sure that there is justice for those who were killed effectively by this governor,” O’Rourke said. “I want to make sure there’s justice for the rate payer who is now forced to foot the bill for these illegal windfall profits made by the gas companies and Energy Transfer Partners and others here in the state of Texas. I want to make sure we make this right for all involved.”
KXAN is also working to identify Warren’s attorneys and update this story once a comment from them becomes available.
The governor’s race will come down to a head-to-head matchup between Abbott and O’Rourke. During last week’s primary, Abbott captured more than 66% of the vote over his seven Republican challengers, while O’Rourke won 91% of the votes in the field of five Democrats seeking their party’s nomination.
An overwhelming majority of Texas voters say they’re concerned about the state’s electrical grid. A Your Local Election Headquarters/The Hill/Emerson College Polling poll taken this week found 82% of voters are either very concerned (47%) or somewhat concerned (35%) about the grid. The concern cuts across party lines. More than half of the voters in the polling sample identified as Republicans.