The study found that gas interests have spent more than $41 million lobbying state officials, with industry executives, employees and PACs piping an additional $8 million into the campaigns of candidates for state office. “It has become increasingly apparent that oil and gas industry officials intend to spend as much as it takes to steamroll their way to legislative and regulatory success” said Common Cause/PA executive director Barry Kauffman. Pennsylvania remains one of just 11states that do not restrict the amount of money that individuals and PACs can give directly to candidates. (In-depth results of this study are provided at the newly updated www.MarcellusMoney.org, and in the attached tables.)
These extraordinary investments in access to power may not reveal the entire story of the Marcellus Shale industry’s might in Harrisburg. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United gave corporations, unions and other entities the freedom to spend whatever they wish on “independent” political activity, dozens of non-profit groups have sprung up to handle those donations. And because they are registered with the Internal Revenue Service as social welfare organizations, the groups are not required to disclose their donors.
“The truth is, $8 million in campaign contributions, while a lot of money, is only what is discoverable in a weakened disclosure system,” Kauffman said. “In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United (2010) and McCutcheon (2014) decisions, the gas industry can channel campaign money into other organizations that will hide the industry’s fingerprints.”
Industry advocates, and critics alike have taken advantage of the new rules. Oil and gas executives John Hess and Trevor-Rees Jones each contributed $237,000 to the Republican Governors Association this year, which in turn gave Governor Tom Corbett more than $5.8 million for his unsuccessful re-election drive. Rees-Jones is the CEO of Chief Oil, which has extensive fracking interests in Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, environmentalist Tom Steyer’s Next Gen Climate Action Committee appears to have spent at least $1.1 million on 1,468 TV ads attacking Corbett during July. The money was part of $100 million Steyer pledged nationwide to oppose candidates who reject climate change science.
For the 2013-14 election cycle the report was able to identify gas industry contributions of $697,284 to Corbett, and $53,500 to challenger Tom Wolf, now the governor-elect. Its investments in campaign contributions and lobbying continue to bear rich rewards for the industry. In 2013, the industry cemented its past gains and secured passage of SB-259, which gave drillers additional power to pool leases. That legislation was opposed by anti-fracking groups and the PA Association of Royalty Owners. Then in 2014, during the legislature’s hectic attempt to pass a state budget by the June 30 deadline, gas interests successfully injected more protections for the industry into a fiscal code bill (HB-278) allowing for fracking of shallow depth wells without the protective restrictions required for deep wells.
“Citizens need to pay attention to the gas industry’s lobbying prowess in the upcoming legislature. With a new governor committed to achieving a gas extraction tax and tougher environmental protections, the gas industry’s lobbying and campaign finance machine will likely spread another oily slick of cash across the legislature” Kauffman said.
Campaign contributions and large investments in lobbying continue to serve the industry as weapons in the governing process. The scope of these efforts is difficult to assess, thanks to the legislature’s failure to enact basic transparency mechanisms like those in SB-120. This legislation passed the state Senate unanimously in April 2013 but died more than a year-and-half later in the House State Government Committee, where it never was brought to a vote. Had the bill passed, all candidates for state-level office would be required to file campaign finance reports electronically, saving the Commonwealth significant data processing expenses, making Dept. of State operations more efficient, and giving citizens and journalists quicker and easier access to campaign finance information before an election.
“The parallels between fracking and PA’s campaign finance and lobbying systems are more than a little ironic” said Kauffman. “Through fracking, the gas industry pumps highly toxic chemicals under extreme pressure into the environment; through its lobbying and political spending, the industry pumps highly toxic campaign and lobbying money into PA’s political campaigns and government decision-making processes. Citizens in other states do not tolerate the abuses of power that accompany unlimited campaign contributions and unlimited gifts by lobbyists. We hope the 2015-16 legislative session will bring an end to these embarrassments to the Keystone State” Kauffman said.
Common Cause is a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process.