KINGSPORT — The eyes of Eastman Chemical Co.’s political action committee have been upon Texas this summer.
In its most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission, Eastman PAC reported giving about $13,000 to the political campaigns of 21 Texas House and Senate lawmakers during July.
The campaign contributions coincide with Eastman’s announcement at the end of last July to develop a $1.6 billion state-of-the-art industrial gasification facility to be located in Beaumont, Texas. The new facility is expected to generate 1,300 to 1,500 construction jobs and more than 250 permanent jobs, accounting for more than $686 million in direct and indirect employee compensation over a 10-year period, according to Eastman.
Construction is expected to be under way by early 2009, and Eastman expects the plant to be online in 2011. Eastman said the plant will produce low-cost intermediate chemicals, such as methanol, hydrogen and ammonia.
When announcing the Texas investment, Eastman cited that local officials approved about $100 million in incentives for the gasification project, which was called “an environmentally responsible choice” by company Chairman and CEO Brian Ferguson.
Eastman PAC’s moves on the Texas political stage are happening as Republicans hold the legislative cards with working majorities in both the state Senate and House.
Of the 21 campaign contributions made by Eastman PAC to Texas lawmakers, 14 went to Republicans and seven went to Democrats. In the 2006 election cycle, nearly 80 percent of chemical industry PAC contributions going to federal candidates went to Republicans, according to Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics.
Eastman PAC describes itself as a nonprofit association with a purpose of providing nonpartisan support to selected candidates for political office.
“Contributions are made to candidates who have taken or have pledged to take responsible positions on issues involving the free enterprise system and on economic questions of major importance to our company,” Eastman spokeswoman Betty Payne said in an e-mail when asked about the company’s political goals in Texas.
Next year in Texas, all 150 House seats will be up for grabs for another two-year term while voters will choose 15 senators to serve for another four years.
Noteworthy contributions made by Eastman PAC in Texas included:
•$1,000 going into the campaign account of state Sen. Kip Averitt, Republican chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Natural Resources, and $500 going to Republican state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, who chairs the House Committee on Environmental Regulation.
•$500 contributions going to the campaigns of state Rep. Rick Hardcastle, Republican chair of House Committee on Energy Resources and the committee’s Democratic vice chair, state Rep. David Farabee.
•A $1,000 contribution going to the campaign of Republican state Sen. Troy Fraser, chairman of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce. In 2006, Fraser was named a top lawmaker by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council for his legislation in electricity deregulation and developing renewable energy. According to his biography on the state’s Web site (www.capitol.state.tx.us), Fraser worked in the 2000 George W. Bush for President campaign and helped lead recount efforts in Palm Beach County, Fla.
•A $500 contribution going to Democrat state Rep. Joe Deshotel, who describes himself as a “successful attorney, businessman and lifelong resident” of Beaumont. “Representative Deshotel’s tenure on the House Committee on Economic Development has helped bring in much needed investment dollars to Southeast Texas,” his biography says.
All of Eastman PAC’s contributions are made in compliance “with all applicable laws and regulations that govern that type of political support,” Payne noted.