Wednesday 9 March 2022

Texas GOP donor sues Beto O'Rourke for defamation

 Texas Democrat Beto O'Rourke is being sued for defamation after the gubernatorial candidate criticized an oil pipeline billionaire's donation to his opponent Gov. Greg Abbott, claiming the Republican governor has been "bought off" by energy executives.

Energy Transfer chairman Kelcy Warren is suing O'Rourke over claims the Democrat made about Warren's $1 million donation to Abbott's campaign. The lawsuit was filed in February in rural West Texas, the Associated Press reports.

Essentially, O'Rourke contends that Abbott has insufficiently regulated energy providers in Texas, which he says is one reason Texas' power grid failed after severe winter storms rocked the state last year. He's accused the two-term GOP governor of being soft on energy companies and has cited Warren's donation as an example of how energy executives have "bought off" the governor.

Warren's company, Energy Transfer, reported $6.7 billion in net income for 2021, including about $2.4 billion revenue earned after the February 2021 storm caused natural gas prices to surge. The AP reports that four months after this earnings report, Warren gave Abbott's campaign $1 million, his largest political campaign contribution in decades.

O'Rourke contends that Abbott purposely mishandled the power grid crisis so that energy companies could increase their profits.

"Abbott put their profits over our lives. Why? Because they bought him off," the Democratic challenger tweeted in January.

During at least one campaign stop, O'Rourke specifically mentioned Warren's $1 million donation to Abbott and said the contribution "looks like a bribe to me," according to the AP.

The energy executive's lawsuit says O'Rourke's claim is defamatory.

“O’Rourke intended that his malicious and baseless defamatory statements publicly humiliate Warren and discourage others from contributing to Governor Abbott’s campaign,” the lawsuit reads.

In a statement, Energy Transfer said O'Rourke's comments are "flat-out false." A spokeswoman for Abbott told the AP their campaign "is in no way involved in this lawsuit."

On Monday, O'Rourke told reporters in Dallas the lawsuit is frivolous. He said Warren's defamation allegations are an attempt to "use his billions of dollars to try to shut me down and shut us up from telling the story of what happened to the people of Texas.”

“We’re on the most solid ground possible,” O'Rourke said, walking reporters through the storm and criticizing Abbott's actions in its aftermath.

“All I have done today and all I have done over the course of the campaign is share these facts," he said, arguing, "When we connect the dots and follow the money, we see that Greg Abbott has put profits over people.”

After O'Rourke's press conference, Energy Transfer spokeswoman Vicki Granado released this statement: "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."

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