Published: 11/11/11 @ 12:08
By Karl Henkel
The Youngstown Vindicator
Fracking industry contributions are filling the coffers of Ohio legislators and public officials just as fast as oil and gas companies are invading the state, according to a nonprofit group.
Common Cause, a nonprofit advocacy organization, has found that the industry has spent nearly $750 million for lobbying and has contributed nearly $21 million to members of Congress during the past decade.
Nearly $3 million of that went to Ohio legislators and public officials, and that number will only swell as fracking picks up throughout the Buckeye State.
Fracking is a process that involves injecting a mix of sand, chemicals and water into a well at high pressure to break underground rock formations and free up natural gas.
It has been a contentious issue across the nation because of its possible environmental impact.
Legislators, partisan groups and public officials — many from Ohio — have been the direct beneficiaries of fracking money.
Gov. John Kasich tops the list; he has collected $213,519 during the past 10 years.
Kasich’s office embraced the fact it wants to help the fracking industry.
“Over the next four years, shale is expected to create more than 200,000 jobs in Ohio and bring in nearly half a billion dollars in additional revenue to the state,” said Rob Nichols, Kasich’s spokesman. “While the governor has warned the industry that they better play by our environmental rules and regulations, we are glad to have the support of an industry that is poised to reinvigorate the [Mahoning] Valley’s economy and put a whole bunch of Ohioans back to work.”
Other top beneficiaries include the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, which has received $114,750, and the Ohio House Republican Organizing Committee, which has netted $95,500.
Nineteen of the top 20 state-level recipients of fracking industry money are Republicans; the lone Democrat is former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who has received $87,450.
Ohio’s federal legislators pocketed $562,000, led by Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Republican from West Chester, who has received $186,900 in contributions; $173,500 of that was from political-action committees, or PACs.
A PAC is an industry or advocacy group that raises and contributes money to the campaigns of candidates likely to advance the group’s interests.
Boehner was the 24th-highest beneficiary of fracking money among U.S. legislators.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Cincinnati, has received $91,000, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Avon, has netted $11,000.
Brown declined to comment on the Common Cause study but said that “as shale companies begin work ... it is imperative that we ensure the safety of our drinking water and that Ohio jobs are going to Ohio workers.”
U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson of Marietta, R-6th, has received $13,000. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, has collected $500.
James Browning, regional director of state operations for Common Cause, told The Vindicator that contributions in Ohio, home of the Utica Shale, should continue to increase much like they did a few years ago in Pennsylvania, which has the Marcellus Shale.
Browning also said that it will be harder to track the money going to legislators and state officials because of Ohio’s weak lobbying restrictions.
Ohio does not require lobbyists to disclose campaign contributions, which may distort overall contributions.
For example, in 2009, Pennsylvania lobbyists reported spending $470 million in 2009, 100 times more than the $407,322 in Ohio.
“The public doesn’t even get to see the millions spent by the industry,” Browning said.
The fracking industry’s expenditures have targeted the federal FRAC Act, which would regulate fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act and require full disclosure when it comes to chemicals used in the fracking process.
The bill was introduced in both the House and the Senate during the 111th Congress but was not acted upon.
The bill has been re-introduced in the 112th Congress and has been introduced and referred to the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy.