Oil Empire | Family Ties
A KXAN investigation into Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Christi Craddick — the state’s top oil and gas regulator – has uncovered questionable connections with the industry she oversees and potential conflicts she’s never disclosed publicly.
Research reveals Craddick and two of her family’s companies — Quarry and Craddick Partners Ltd. — have stakes in more than 360 oil and gas leases in 22 counties across Texas. With stakes in Mexco Energy Corporation, in which her father sits on the board of directors, that number swells beyond 600 in Texas.
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.
It all began when Tom Craddick moved to Midland as a boy with his family in the early 1950s. Winning his first bid for Texas House in 1968, he is now the longest-serving legislator in state history.
Throughout that service, Tom has been an oilman, entrepreneur and serious player in the oil and gas business. Today, his picture even hangs in the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum’s “Petroleum Hall of Fame.”
He was appointed chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee in 1975 — the first Republican to lead a state legislative committee in more than a century. Critics would come to suggest he held a conflict of interest in regularly backing legislation promoting oil and gas interests, since his family was so closely tied to the industry.
In 2002, Tom was investigated for his role in a GOP fundraising scandal. Prosecutors questioned whether he illegally benefited from being given PAC money to distribute to several other House members for their support in his bid to become Speaker. He denied wrongdoing and was never charged. The following year, he was elected Speaker, again the first Republican to hold the position in 130 years.
Amid political controversy, several House members attempted to remove Tom from that leadership post in the final days of 2007’s legislative session, with one Republican suggesting the matter was “about the convergence of money, power and influence.” He asserted fellow-lawmakers could not unseat him without his consent. Ultimately, he remained in the position until the following session.
Tom’s oldest child, Christi, stuck close, as an oil and gas attorney, lobbyist and his longtime political consultant. She won a six-year term on the Railroad Commission in 2012 — a statewide post, her first foray into public office.
Much of her campaign money came from individuals and corporations involved in Texas oil and gas, according to the Texas Ethics Commission. Her father was listed as her biggest donor, giving her over $500,000 before the primary runoff.
Two years later, she was elected to lead the three-member commission. Perhaps one of the most controversial moments during her tenure as chairman has been the 2017 resignation of the agency’s former executive director, Kimberly Corley, following a private meeting with Christi. At the time, Corley had been working to tackle longstanding challenges of the agency not inspecting hundreds of thousands of wells.
In a subsequent public meeting, another commissioner accused Christi of attempting to get rid of Corley without consulting the rest of the commission, comparing her actions to the running of a “dictatorship.” Christi later explained that “the agency needed to move in a different direction.”
Like Tom, Christi is up for re-election in November and expected to win. She opposes Democrat Roman McAllen, who pundits say faces an uphill battle in a state where a Democrat hasn’t won a statewide race in more than 20 years.
Using only state-mandated financial disclosures, it would be tough to learn exactly what the Craddicks own and what could be a conflict of interest. The full scope was clear only after KXAN visited 10 West Texas courthouses to dig through deeds and other records not easily accessed online or through public information requests.
Christi reports mineral interests in several counties in a portion of her disclosure, but she doesn’t specify the leases or types of interest. She also doesn’t include every county in which we discovered she holds an oil and gas interest.
During this investigation, we also learned Tom passed down several mineral and royalty interests to Christi and her brother through a family trust. And two of their companies — Craddick Inc. and Craddick Partners Ltd. — are headquartered out of Tom’s Midland home.
‘Be very careful’
Texas law allows railroad commissioners to hold oil and gas interests. The law also requires them to inform the public before considering measures which involve those interests and bans them from participating in related votes, according to state statute.
In a review of the official minutes from every Railroad Commission meeting since January 2014, KXAN found no recorded disclosures or recusals by any commissioner.
If an elected official in Texas votes on items in which they are personally or financially involved, that official could be removed from office, according to state code. The law also allows the attorney general to initiate the process when a complaint is received.
“If I were on the commission, I would be very careful here with involving myself in these items,” said Buck Wood, and Austin ethics attorney. “Someone needs to be looking into this. Someone needs to ask the attorney general about this.”
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 upcoming legislative session.