The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

January 20, 2013

Gas industry bet big on GOP

Lost state AG race despite cash

SHARON — In the weeks leading up to the November election, gas company political action committees, industry executives and representatives of businesses serving the burgeoning drilling industry in Pennsylvania poured more than $180,000 in the campaign coffers of the Republican candidate for attorney general.

It was not the industry’s first venture into spending heavily in a campaign.

Watchdog groups claim that over the years the industry has expanded its footprint in Pennsylvania, drilling companies have spent millions of dollars on campaign donations.

Gas money went to a number of politicians who won election and then proceeded to set policy that has been friendly to the gas industry. Headlining that group is the governor Tom Corbett, who steadfastly refused to agree to any policy that would tax the gas drilling industry, opting only to support the addition of impact fees.

But in the attorney general’s race, the gas money didn’t help.

Voters elected Attorney General Kathleen Kane, the first Democrat to ever win election as attorney general in Pennsylvania. And Kane, as a candidate had promised to fight for more money to devote enforcement of environmental law to monitor the gas industry in Pennsylvania.

Kane won 56 percent of the vote.

“It makes sense that the gas companies would be spending their money on (Freed),” said Joshua McNeil, executive director of the Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania. “That’s why we endorsed Kathleen Kane. She promised to beef up enforcement of the natural gas industry.”

A spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the leading gas industry lobbying group in Pennsylvania, said the organization cannot make political contributions and the organization would not try to explain why some of the gas companies that are part of the coalition would have supported one candidate or another. One-third of the companies represented on the coalition’s board of directors donated to the campaign of Republican attorney general David Freed.  

A spokesman for Chesapeake Energy said that the gas companies' PACs are merely trying to help candidates that will support the responsible growth of the industry.

"Chesapeake’s federal and state political action committees seek to identify well-informed, principled leaders on matters of domestic energy policy and support their efforts to promote a strong, clean energy agenda with an emphasis on natural gas," said company spokesman Matt Sheppard.

Chesapeake gave $10,000 to the Freed campaign.

It was not just big gas companies that were putting the money in the race. Donors included a number of businesses that have been identified by the Corbett Administration as businesses that have thrived thanks to their success developing relationships with the gas industry.

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