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Gas industry’s campaign donations rose 47% in 2013-14, report says

.   Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation has six drill rigs running in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania.  This rig is the most recent as of October 2013 in Kingsley, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A Cabot Oil & Gas drill rig in Kingsley, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry donated 47% more to state political campaigns in 2013-14 than it did two years earlier in an effort to weaken regulations and minimize taxation, according to a new report from Common Cause Pennsylvania.

The liberal advocacy organization issued an updated report on Thursday, showing that the industry spent $2.8 million on political campaigns in the latest period, and increased its lobbying expenditure by $2.1 million to $17.9 million.

Of the lobbying total, $12.9 million was paid by the 20 companies with the largest number of environmental violations between 2011 and 2014. Those companies also spent $2.1 million on campaign gifts, the report said, citing data for that part of the report from the nonprofit Environment America Research & Policy Center.

Cabot Oil & Gas, the dominant operator in Susquehanna County, topped the list with 265 violations over the period, spending $575,913 on lobbying and $58,614 in campaign contributions, according to the Common Cause report, titled Marcellus Money.

The biggest spender on lobbying was Range Resources Appalachia, a major player in the southwest Pennsylvania Marcellus, which spent some $3.8 million between 2011 and 2014. Range, which has the largest number of active wells on the top-20 list, was the fourth-largest donor of campaign gifts, with a total of $242,985 during the period, the report said.

Neither Cabot, nor Range, responded to requests for comment.

Former Republican Governor Tom Corbett attracted almost $795,000 in campaign contributions from the gas industry in 2013-14, the report said. It accused Corbett of giving away the state’s natural resources by signing the wide-ranging Act 13 which allowed energy companies to continue to operate without a severance tax on gas production, which is levied by all other gas-producing states.

By successfully lobbying for an impact fee rather than a severance tax, the industry has paid between $200 million and $300 million a year based on its gas production, or less than half of the $600 million to $800 million that would have been raised by a 5% severance tax, the report said, citing research by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

“The consistently high levels of gas industry investment in political contributions and lobbying should worry all Pennsylvanians,” said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause PA. “These political investments were made for a purpose – to ensure the industry could hold sway over public policies and government officials.”

The report, which was based on data from the Pennsylvania Department of State, also published details on the amounts donated to state lawmakers. They include State Rep. Brian Ellis, a Republican sponsor of Act 13, who received $62,650 from the industry between 2007 and 2014, and Rep. Jeff Pyle, also Republican, who was paid $97,868 over the period.

Neither Ellis nor Pyle responded to requests for comment on Friday.

In 2013-2014, the industry donated some $2.2 million to 197 Republican candidates and PACs compared with about $520,000 to 127 Democratic candidates and PACs, the report said.

Current Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, received $59,500 in campaign contributions from the gas industry in 2013-14, while his chief of staff, Katie McGinty, received $72,500, the report said.

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