It’s no secret that Rep. Henry Cuellar, the conservative Texas Democrat, was his home and campaign office mugged as part of an FBI investigation this week, has deep corporate ties. Cuellar, a nine-term incumbent, is known as “Big Oil’s favorite Democrat.” He is a top congressional recipient of oil, gas and private prison industry funds and has been caught providing them favored to lobbyists. Business interests, from groups linked to Koch to the immensely powerful US Chamber of Commerce, back Cuellar. And he reciprocates the generosity by using his power in Congress to accommodate their preferences and protect capital.
It also helps when the special interests and corporations that dominate the political system have a direct channel to the legislature’s office. One of Cuellar’s youngest chiefs of staff, Amy Travieso, has a particularly alarming story. She swings through the revolving door to lobby or work for several organizations that have made large donations to the Texas Democrats — including the oil and gas industry’s most powerful lobby group, which funded a dark-money effort that launched its 2020 primary campaign supported.
Travieso first joined Cuellar’s office in 2011 as deputy chief of staff, a position she held for nearly six years. After her initial stint on the Cuellar team, Travieso registered to lobby on behalf of two groups: the US Chamber of Commerce, where she served as director of congressional and public affairs from February 2017 to December 2017, and the American Hotel and Lodging Association, where she worked She served as Vice President, Government Affairs from January 2018 to June 2020. While working for these organizations, Travieso has advocated for at least 10 laws that Cuellar either supported or voted for, according to OpenSecrets data. In many of those cases, Cuellar was among a small handful of Democrats who voted in favor of Republican-sponsored policies, including votes to scrap environmental regulations, end worker protections and undermine the Affordable Care Act. Travieso campaigned against the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, the Democrats’ sweeping labor reform bill. Cuellar happened to be one of seven Democrats who eventually voted against.
But Travieso wasn’t done yet and spun through the revolving door again. She returned to Cuellar’s office in June 2020, this time as his chief of staff. A year later, she resigned from the senior position join the American Petroleum Institute, where she is currently Senior Director for Federal Relations. Although she is not officially registered as a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, its federal relations team is Dedicated to advancing “the organization’s advocacy goals in Washington,” according to its website.
Since 2011, the American Petroleum Institute has donated $17,000 directly to the Cuellar campaign committee. During the 2020 elementary school, the American Petroleum Institute gave over a million dollars to a mysterious dark money group American Workers for Progress, which has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into promoting Cuellar in the final weeks of the highly competitive race.