National Fuel Wields Undue Influence on Hydrofracking Policy in Western NY and the Southern Tier

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Deanna Bitetti

November 17, 2011


National Fuel Wields Undue Influence on Hydrofracking Policy in Western NY and the Southern Tier

Contributed over a Quarter of a Million Dollars to Legislators, Senior Executives Appointed to Policy Making Positions

Today Common Cause NY released a report (click here), Connect the Dots: National Fuel, Power Player in New York State, about the degree to which the pro-fracking National Fuel wields its influence to shape policy. National Fuel is an integrated energy company with $4 billion of assets, half of which come from its interstate natural gas transportation and storage services. As a result, National Fuel has a strong interest in natural gas exploration in New York State.

“The amount of money spent by National Fuel, combined with the recent appointments of top executives to important posts, reflects the resources and income at their disposal to influence public policy decision making. We need public financing of elections to reduce the power of special interests, and restore the public trust in government,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause NY.

In the last two election cycles alone, National Fuel PAC made over 530 campaign contributions to candidates for office. Combined, National Fuel PAC and the company’s five senior executives (past and present), have contributed over a quarter of a million dollars – $287, 547 – to candidates running for election at all levels of New York government: municipal, county, and state. The report includes a Top Ten list of legislators who’ve received donations from National Fuel.

Moreover, the appointment of three of the company’s most senior executives (past and present) to powerful decision making positions, raises serious questions about the undue influence of its special interest money in shaping policy.

In September 2011, David Smith, Chairman and CEO of National Fuel was elected chair of The Business Council of New York State Inc. He also serves on the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise (Chairman) and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership (Executive Committee)

Philip Ackerman was Chief Executive Officer of National Fuel from October 2001 until February 21, 2008 and remained Chairman of the Board until 2010. He is now the Chair of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency as well as a current member of the Erie County Council on Economic Development; he formerly served on the former Erie County Executive’s transition team. Philip Ackerman has been the most generous donor of National Fuel’s executives, giving a total of $88,680 since 2007, $35,000 of which went to Chris Collins’ campaign account.

In June 2010 former Erie County Executive Chris Collins appointed Jeffrey Hart, Assistant Vice President of National Fuel, as Deputy County Executive for Erie County, National Fuel is Erie County’s largest payer of property taxes and a major county vendor through purchases arranged by the Public Works Department. National Fuel also receives millions of dollars through the Federal Home Energy Assistance Program administered by county government. Hart retains a position with National Fuel Gas and receives a salary paid for by National Fuel Gas Company shareholders. He has stated that he will donate the $107,400-a-year county salary to charity. Although Hart must abstain from any decisions directly involving National Fuel, the position in and of itself provides undue influence in decisions that could affect the business interests of National Fuel and grants him undue access to decision-makers.

Katherine Nadeau, Water & Natural Resources Program Director at Environmental Advocates of New York said “If New York’s leaders open the door to fracking, it shouldn’t be because the gas industry has lined the pockets of a few. Fracking has the potential to poison our water and pollute our air, and New Yorkers desperately want our elected officials to choose the health and safety of our communities and our families over short-term gas profits. We tip our hats to Common Cause New York for shining a light on National Fuel.”

Common Cause reiterated its call for a public funding of elections system, to ensure that important policy decisions are determined without the oversized influence of special interest money. Further, more stringent laws on the county level should deter appointments that give even the perception of a conflict of interest to the public from occurring and draw a bright line for elected officials when making appointments on the local level.