Tuesday, January 14, 2014

That's a lot of fracking money

Posted By on Tue, Jan 14, 2014 at 11:09 AM

A new report from Common Cause/NY says that between 2007 and July 2013, pro-fracking interests outspent anti-fracking interests nine to one.

The report, released yesterday, says that pro-fracking companies and groups contributed $15.4 million to political committees and spent $48.9 million on lobbying, while fracking opponents spent $1.9 million on political contributions and $5.4 million on lobbying.

The figures warrant a few words of caution, since the documented spending isn't necessarily fracking-related. Rather, Common Cause tallied the total spending on political contributions and lobbying by companies and organizations with interests for or against fracking. It directly addresses the matter in the report.

"In comparison to our previous reports, this is a vastly expanded universe of fracking interests," it says. "As a consequence, many of the entities now included as pro-fracking interests seek to influence public policy on various issues, not simply fracking."

Since 2010, Common Cause has tracked the spending of organizations with interests in fracking, whether for or against. The underlying reason is simple: that sort of spending can influence key decision-makers. And state officials are weighing whether to allow the use of high-volume hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations.

On the pro-fracking side, the report examines spending from what it calls direct interests, such as gas and oil companies, and indirect interests, such as engineering firms, law firms, and unions. On the anti-fracking side, it looks at spending from environmental groups, public interest groups, and businesses that are members of anti-fracking coalitions.

And when the spending is narrowed to include only direct interests and anti-fracking environmental groups, the spending disparity falls to four to one. Pro-fracking interests spent $1.1 million on political contributions and $15.6 million on lobbying, the report says. Anti-fracking interests spent $41,000 on political contributions and $4 million on lobbying.

The report also says that pro-fracking interests have given Monroe County's Republican and Democratic political committees, as well as county politicians, approximately $2.1 million between 2007 and July 2013. The donors, which the report characterizes as oil and gas support firms, include LeChase Construction, the Pike Company, Labella Associates, the Harris Beach law firm, and O’Brien & Gere engineers. The firms often do business with area local governments, particularly the county and city.

The report also lists the state legislators who have received the most pro-fracking money. Many of the local State Senate delegation made the list, although the report says some members of the delegation do have reservations about fracking. Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, who was previously chair of the Assembly Insurance Committee, also made the list. It says he received $66,575, although the report also says he's opposed to fracking.

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