While Texas’ top oil and gas regulators were deciding whether to permit a disputed oil waste disposal site, their campaigns raised tens of thousands of dollars from donors tied to the case.

Wheat and Virginia Palacios, executive director of Commission Shift, identified several disputes that drew donations from interested parties in a report published last year. During two recent cases, commissioners raised a total of $397,000 from NGL Water Solutions and Boykin Energy, which had filed applications for two pairs of waste-disposal wells in Reeves County that were being challenged by nearby oil and gas producers. In both cases, the commission sided with NGL and Boykin.

Commissioners must recuse themselves from matters in which they have a “personal or private interest” but aren’t required to withdraw from cases involving political donors. Critics say the commission’s lax fundraising restrictions and recusal policy creates an appearance of bias.

“It’s not far-fetched for the public to look at this kind of data and have concern that their needs are not being considered as much as the donors’,” said Palacios, whose organization is pressing the Railroad Commission to reform, told OpenSecrets.

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