One of the state’s biggest natural gas drillers, Range Resources, paid for expensive steak dinners for Corbett administration officials, state legislators, and gas industry executives, according to documents obtained by StateImpact Pennsylvania under the state’s Right To Know law.
Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley and Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Alan Walker disclosed the dinners as gifts on their annual Governor’s Code of Conduct financial statements.
According to Cawley’s filing, he received a dinner valued at $107 in March 2012 from the senior vice president of Range Resources, Ray Walker.
Walker is the co-founder of the Marcellus Shale Coalition and served as gas industry trade group’s first chairman. He was also a member of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, which Cawley chaired. The 30-member panel was charged with creating recommendations to the state about gas drilling policies.
Cawley’s spokesman Chad Saylor says he also attended the dinner, along with another Range Resources staffer.
The group dined at a steakhouse in Pittsburgh, although Saylor couldn’t recall the name of the restaurant.
“I remember them talking about the company’s plans,” he says, “[Cawley] likes to meet with Pennsylvanians creating jobs.”
According to Saylor it’s not uncommon for the lieutenant governor to have dinner meetings with executives from different industries while he’s traveling throughout the state.
He says there’s no set policy on whether Cawley pays his own way.
“I’ve been at some [dinners] where he’s picked up the tab. I’ve been at others where they have.”
A month later, in April 2012 Range Resources bought a dinner for DCED Secretary Alan Walker valued at $154.
Walker dined at Del Frisco’s steakhouse in Philadelphia where the most expensive item on the menu is a 32 ounce rib eye for $89.
He lists the dinner as a discussion about state’s natural gas supply chain and workforce development opportunities.
According to the filing, Senators Vince Hughes (D- Montgomery/Phila.) and Tim Solobay (D- Allegheny) were also there.
DCED spokesman Steve Kratz says Walker was invited by Senator Hughes’ office and attended as a courtesy.
“It was a simple discussion,” he says. “It wasn’t a business meeting.”
Range Resources hosted about 35 people, including area business leaders and members of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
Kratz says the gathering did not influence any policy decisions. He adds Walker’s meal was just his share of the overall price for a pre-ordered group menu.
“It’s not like he picked out the most expensive thing. Really, it’s a non-issue.”
Hughes’ spokesman Ben Waxman confirmed the Senator organized the dinner, saying it was an attempt to connect women and minority businesses with opportunities in the shale industry.
“It was a networking event,” says Waxman.
Neither Range Resources nor Sen. Solobay’s office responded to requests for comment.None of the state officials were required to report the meals to the Ethics Commission.
Pennsylvania’s ethics law requires the disclosure of tangible gifts over $250, and travel, hospitality or entertainment over $650– the dinners did not meet that threshold.
Instead, Cawley and Walker were required to report the meals under a more stringent set of rules known as the Governor’s Code of Conduct. It’s a 1984 executive order which only applies to members of the executive branch and requires them to disclose gifts over $100.
The code prohibits the governor and his staff from accepting gifts from anyone engaged in a business activity regulated by the state.
However there is an exception for the “acceptance of food and refreshment of nominal value on infrequent occasions in the ordinary course of a luncheon or dinner meeting.”
Governor Corbett has said his administration follows the law but the “Code of Conduct is not law.”