The good government watchdog group Common Cause Pennsylvania says campaign contributions and lobbyist spending is influencing the debate over the development of the Marcellus Shale formation. A Common Cause study found people and companies with ties to Marcellus Shale gas drilling gave nearly $3 million to Pennsylvania political candidates in the last 10 years and millions more have been spent by gas drilling lobbyists in the three years since such reporting has been required. Common Cause Pennsylvania Associate Director James Browning says Pennsylvania is like the “wild west” of campaign financing. He points to Christine Toretti who is the CEO of S.W. Jack Drilling. Toretti gave $990,000 of her own money to political campaigns and her company gave more than a million since 2001. Browning says it took hundreds of hours to find all that information thanks to the state’s loose campaign contribution laws. Toretti is also the National Committeewoman of Pennsylvania to the Republican National Committee and is known to give money for issues not related to gas drilling. State Representative David Levdansky of Clairton says the influences of big money can be seen in the refusal of the PA Senate Leadership to call votes on legislation that would limit drilling in the Marcellus Formation and impose taxes on the drillers. Common Cause says the top three Republicans in the state senate have all received campaign contributions from the gas industry. Levdansky has long been a proponent of campaign finance reform and has recently called for more controls on drilling on state lands.
The study also finds shale gas money could be playing a role in the race for the governor’s mansion. Republican Candidate and PA Attorney General Tom Corbett leads the six candidates with $360,000 in donations from gas concerns. Democratic candidate and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato places a distant second with $60,000 in contributions. Browning says the governor’s office is so important to this issue that they found a $25,000 contribution to Governor Ed Rendell after his last election. “Now this is someone who is term limited, he is not going to have another campaign for governor. This is clearly an attempt to stay in his good graces,” says Browning. Pittsburgh League of Women Voters Shale Researcher Shannon Debes says the state needs tighter controls to make sure voters have more say in the future of the state than big money. She says the debate over drilling is such an important issue for the state’s future that voters cannot allow it to be dictated by political donations.
The full report can be downloaded here.