By William Ecenbarger
It might seem odd that Kim Pegula, a self-described "homemaker" from Boca Raton, Florida, would donate $180,000 to help state Attorney General Tom Corbett become the next governor of Pennsylvania.
To be sure, Ms. Pegula is no ordinary homemaker, but is responsible for an 8,000-square-foot, Tuscan-style estate in the exclusive St. Andrews Country Club that is currently on the market for $5.4 million.
But $180,000 is a lot of money, even in
What could she have had in mind? Along with her husband, Terry Pegula, she is a founder of the Black River Music Group, an independent country music recording label that is home to such artists such as Jeff Bates and Sarah Darling.
But that doesn't seem like a good enough reason....
Oh wait! Terry Pegula is Terrance M. Pegula, the president, CEO and sole shareholder of East Resources, Inc.,
Some of the richest natural gas reserves in the world are here, and exploration companies like East Resources have been drilling ever more wells in northern and southwestern
And just as surely as the drilling is rising, so are industry contributions to
A few years ago, oil and gas interests were negligible givers to
No surprise here. The drillers are betting that their political bounty will influence the executive and legislative branches on issues like taxation, environmental regulations and a moratorium on drilling on state-owned land.
Studies upon studies have show that public office-holders tend to make decisions that favor those who have helped finance their elections to office. In politics, money not only talks - it practically shouts if given in large amounts.
A study of reports filed with the Pennsylvania Department of State shows that in the 18-month period between
One thing is very clear: the gas companies believe that their interests will best be served through the election of Republicans. Of the grand total of $1,028,564 contributed in 2008, 2009 and the first half of 2010, fully 82 per cent, or $843,884, went to Republican candidates.
Corbett accepted $311,803 in natural gas money while his Democratic opponent in the Nov. 2 gubernatorial election, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, took $94,000. State Auditor General Jack Wagner, who lost to Onorato in the Democratic primary, received $26,250.
For the record, Corbett opposes taxing natural gas, saying it would hurt a fledgling industry.
Onorato has not taken a position on the issue.
The party disparity was more pronounced at the legislative level. House and Senate Republican campaign organizations received $66,600, while Democrats got only $2,000, and far more individual Republican candidates were favored than Democrats.
Legislative leaders from both parties drew gas money, but again most of it went to Republicans. Tops in this class was Sen. Joseph B. Scarnati
The chairmen, and subcommittee chairmen and members of the key Environmental Resources and Energy Committees in both chambers also were targeted: Rep. Jeffrey P. Pyle (R., Armstrong ), $9,800; Rep. Dave Reed (R., Indiana), $7,250; Sen. Donald R. White, (R., Indiana), $6,000; Rep. Ted Harhai (D., Westmoreland), $4,750, and Rep. Michael Gerber (D., Montgomery), $3,500. (See more details here.)
The Pegulas' East Resources was the largest contributor among natural gas interests, with a total of $276,525 over the 2-1/2-year period, including $205,000 to Corbett.
Other big industry contributions:
-$68,640 from Chesapeake Energy Corp., Oklahoma City, a Fortune 500 company that is the largest single Marcellus stakeholder with 1.6 million acres.
-$61,600 from Range Resources Corp., Fort Worth, Texas, which has leased more than 1.1 million Pennsylvania acres.
-$58,307 from S. W. Jack Drilling, Indiana, PA., one of the largest land-based drillers in the
Common Cause, the nonprofit that advocates for campaign reform, recently estimated that the Marcellus shale drillers have contributed $2.8 million to
Toretti announced in May that she was liquidating S.W. Drilling to invest in other, unspecified energy projects. But, as recent campaign reports filed in
There are many issues critically important to the industry that will be decided by the Legislature and the next
The industry has blocked a severance tax since early 2009, but the recently approved state budget commits the state to enact the levy to take effect on
There are also environmental concerns that must be addressed by the Legislature and the executive branch, especially the state Department of Environmental Protection, which issues drilling permits. Perhaps most troublesome is the impact of the drilling on drinking water.
The gas is a mile or more beneath the surface, and it can only be tapped by breaking up the shale rock with a high-pressure liquid spray that is a mix of water, sand and chemicals, some of which are toxic. This extraction process is known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," and it has been implicated in polluting drinking water in other states
The other side of the coin is that the Marcellus Shale formation is estimated to hold as much as 50 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas under
A cautionary note: Because Pennsylvania's online campaign contribution database is cumbersome, tracing Marcellus Shale donors is an uncertain and difficult procedure. These totals are almost certainly incomplete.
Moreover, companies make contribution from multiple sources. For example, Pittsburgh-based Equitable Production Co. gave $53,550 in the names of five executives and one political action committee-
William Ecenbarger is a reporter and a regular contributor to Metropolis.