Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It's a gas for pols, lobbyists

'Tis the season for voting and it's also the season to ask, who is paying for all those shiny flyer's and television ads for political hopefuls?

Published: May 18, 2010 thetimes-tribune.com

On the theory that a modest tax on extraction of natural gas somehow could deter development of one of the world's largest natural gas fields, some Pennsylvania lawmakers have thwarted such a tax even as the industry rapidly has expanded.

Fortunately for the politicians, the folks who run the industry are not ingrates.

A new study by Common Cause of Pennsylvania, "Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets: The Campaign Contributions and Lobbying Expenditures of the Natural Gas Industry in Pennsylvania," tracks the rapidly growing amount of money that drillers have injected into the state's political landscape.

The report tracks campaign spending by industry figures back to 2002, when Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Fisher received $98,000 from industry sources and Ed Rendell received $10,000.

Compared with current contributions, that is pocket change. Republican gubernatorial candidate and current attorney general Tom Corbett has received more than $300,000 from industry sources since January 2008, while Democrat Dan Onorato has received nearly $60,000.

State law still bans corporate donations, so the money has been contributed by individuals. Christine Toretti, CEO of S.W. Jack Drilling of Indiana County, contributed $990,000 to candidates between 2001 and 2009, according to the report, about a third of the industry money donated. Terrance Pegula, founder of East Resources of Warrendale, and his wife, Kim, contributed more than $330,000 to candidates over the period.

Do you think the recipients answer their calls?

On the lobbying side the study goes back only to 2007, when Pennsylvania finally adopted a law requiring disclosure. Since then, the gas industry has spent more than $4.2 million lobbying Pennsylvania government officials, more than $715,000 in the first quarter of this year alone.

Do campaign contributions and lobbying affect policy? The industry must think so or it wouldn't spend so much money.

The study pointed out that when the state House recently passed a moratorium on further gas leases on state forest land, the 33 representatives who voted against it had received, on average, 3.4 times more campaign donations from industry sources than those who voted for the measure. That bill has not yet moved in the Senate.

Industry officials clearly believe that extensive lobbying and heavy campaign contributions are the cost of doing business. That is exactly what an extraction tax should be. The Legislature should adopt one with this year's budget.
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