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Republicans win big with gas industry donations

A drill rig in Susquehanna County.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

A drill rig in Susquehanna County.

The gas industry has spent almost $50 million to lobby state lawmakers, and try to influence elections since 2007. That’s according to a report out Thursday by Common Cause of Pennsylvania. “Marcellus Money” tracks campaign and lobbying dollars that must be reported to Pennsylvania’s Department of State. But Common Cause director Barry Kauffman says the total does not account for donations to the “independent” non-profits, which are not required to disclose donations following recent Supreme Court rulings.
“In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, the gas industry can channel campaign money into other organizations that will hide the industry’s fingerprints,” said Kauffman.
As an example, Kauffman points to donations made by shale executives John Hess, of Hess Corp., and Trevor Rees Jones from Chief Oil and Gas, whose combined contributions total more than $500,000 to the Republican Governors Association, which subsequently donated more than $5.8 million to Tom Corbett’s failed re-election bid. Governor Corbett has gained the most from industry largess over the years. Natural gas industry interests have given the governor $2,084,241 since 2007. That figure includes industry employees as well as industry political action committees. In contrast, Common Cause calculated industry donations to Governor-elect Tom Wolf as $53,500.
Wolf also received support from billionaire environmentalist Tim Steyer’s Next Gen Climate Action Committee, which spent money nationwide to defeat climate change deniers. Common Cause says the group spent at least $1.1 million on television ads attacking Corbett’s doubts surrounding climate change science.
The most generous industry executive is Terrence Pegula, a Penn State graduate who has a net worth of $4.6 billion according to Forbes, and owns East Resources. Pegula donated $580,000 to Corbett.
Some of the largest winners are newly elected Republican leaders at the state house. Republican Senator Joe Scarnati, who will remain as Pro Temp, took in the largest amount of industry donations, second only to Governor Corbett with $500,870 since 2007. The incoming Speaker of the House, Mike Turzai received $272,100 in the last seven years. And the newly elected Majority Leader Dave Reed saw his donations double this year from previous years. The gas industry donated $50,250 to Reed’s coffers in 2014.
Josh McNeil, from Conservation Voters, says he’s surprised the donations split so starkly down party lines.
“The environment should not be a partisan issue,” said McNeil. “But contributions have made it such. We hope that with a new governor less beholden to the industry we can start to see a reduction in the harms to the environment.”
But he says so far, those investments by the gas industry have paid off.
“[It has had] a return on investment of tens of millions,” said McNeil, “both in the absence of a severance tax and reduced regulations.”
Governor-elect Wolf campaigned on raising $1 billion from a five percent severance tax on the natural gas industry. But he now has to contend with a Republican legislature.
Common Cause says they used a narrow definition for gas industry interests, including energy executives, employees and political action committees. Donations from related industries were not included in their tallies.

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