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Natural gas industry rains cash for state lawmakers’ campaigns, lobbying efforts

The natural gas industry spent nearly $50 million on campaign contributions and lobbying in Pennsylvania since 2007, giving it unwarranted influence over lawmakers, according to two advocacy groups that have been criticized for their opposition to gas drilling.

The groups’ report claims the industry contributed $8 million to candidates and spent $41 million on lobbying between 2007 and June of this year.

“Pennsylvania has to get control of political money. It is one of 11 states with no limits on personal campaign contributions. Our goal is to let people know about this,” said Common Cause Pennsylvania Director Barry Kauffman.

Topping the list is Gov. Tom Corbett, whom Common Cause Pennsylvania and Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania identified as getting $2.08 million from 2007 through Oct. 20. Of that, $1.56 million was from industry employees and $526,652 from industry political action committees.

Patrick Henderson, Corbett’s deputy chief of staff, said the two advocacy groups “are fundamentally opposed to gas drilling.”

Common Cause describes itself as a nonpartisan government watchdog group, but its national governing board includes officials from many left-leaning organizations.

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With the exception of the 2010 Democratic candidate for governor, Dan Onorato, and outgoing Sen. Tim Solobay, a Washington County Democrat, Republicans got the largest contributions, the report stated.

While not disputing the numbers, Corbett’s office says they are misleading and presented out of context.

“Contributions from this industry were 4 percent of what Gov. Corbett raised in 2010 and less than that this year,” said Henderson. “More than $630 million has been raised (for the state) from impact fees paid by energy companies.”

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf, a Democrat, received $73,000.

“Natural gas is an important part of Pennsylvania’s economy, and Gov.-elect Wolf supports a 5 percent extraction tax,” said spokesman Jeff Sheridan.

Two-thirds of Pennsylvanians favor the extraction tax, said Christopher Borick, professor of political science at Muhlenberg College in Allentown and director of the school’s Institute of Public Opinion.

“But Mike Turzai will have a big say in what happens and whether there is even a vote,” Borick said.

Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, is the new House speaker. He received $272,100 in natural gas industry contributions since 2007 — the fourth-highest amount, according to the study, .

The study sponsors are partisan organizations “and have issues they support. If you increase taxes, you will see the natural gas industry leaving,” said Steve Miskin, an aide to Turzai, who opposes an extraction tax.