Chesapeake Energy CEO bankrolled Corbett starting in ’04; McClendon’s contributions pivotal for PA governor
Philadelphia Daily News reporter Will Bunch, in “How a Natural-gas Tycoon Tapped into Corbett,” has helped reveal the tragic impact of massive gas industry campaign contributions on Pennsylvania politics (for the big picture see MarcellusMoney.org, meticulously researched up to the minute by Common Cause). Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon has been bankrolling Pennsylvania’s current gas-loving governor as far back as 2004.
In the Daily News’ June 29th cover story, Bunch explains that a wildcat well is “when a prospector takes a big risk drilling deep in an unexplored area.” Bunch then suggests that a “flamboyant Oklahoma City multimillionaire” did just this – and struck it big – back in 2004:
The $450,000 in campaign checks that energy mogul Aubrey McClendon wrote that fall helped elect a man he said he’d never even met – a relatively obscure GOP candidate for Pennsylvania attorney general, Tom Corbett.
And so the story goes in Bunch’s high-profile article exploring the power relationships behind Governor Corbett’s devotion to the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania. While Bunch begins by raising unanswerable questions of intent and foresight on the part of McClendon, the CEO of Chesapeake Energy, the overall impact of industry donations is unquestionably terrible for the environment and public health.
The natural gas industry gave $7,175,234to Pennsylvania candidates and Political Action Committees (PACs) from 2000 through the end of 2010, according to a Common Cause/Pennsylvania (CCPA) analysis released today. $3,442,212 was donated to elected officials currently in office.
The top recipient remains Governor Tom Corbett, with a total $1,634,096 in contributions from the natural gas industry. Corbett raised $1,083,315 of that total in 2009-2010 from 216 donations. He is followed by Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, with $293,333.
To gain insight into Corbett’s current love affair with the natural gas industry, Bunch rewinds the clock back to the final weeks of the 2004 race for Attorney General. A game-changing donation of $720,000 to Corbett’s campaign came from “an obscure campaign committee out of Washington called the Republican State Leadership Committee – heavily funded by tobacco and insurance as well as energy companies.” The paper trail made clear that $450,000 of RSLC’s generous donation came from McClendon.
This influx of cash enabled Corbett to launch last minute radio campaigns in York and Lancaster counties, which helped him win the state by just 1110,000 votes.
In 2005, Chesapeake “bought a natural-gas rival with operations in the Northeastern U.S.” and admitted they “had been eyeing the Appalachian region, which includes Pennsylvania, and its natural-gas deposits since 2002.”
Bunch profiles McClendon as a potential “poster child for corporate greed.” In its rush to drill, Chesapeake has had “two major well accidents in the past year and allegations from upstate residents of tainted well water.”
At the same time that McClendon has aggressively boosted his pay, state environmentalists charge that Chesapeake has taken an equally hard-charging approach to drilling here, moving ahead with more wells at a faster pace than its smaller rivals – and with consequences for the environment.
Chesapeake was among the first companies to secure leases in the Marcellus Shale region, which includes large swaths of northern and western Pennsylvania; in the past three years, one of every six drilling permits in the state was issued to Chesapeake. The firm now has 360 wells here.
Bunch also shows it’s not all about the exchange of money and political positioning. Real repercussions result while Corbett plays with the gas companies – with innocent victims.
The Bidlack family from near Wyalusing, PA, which leased the rights to drill under their property, said things changed drastically once drilling began in November 2009.
About four months into the drilling, the Bidlacks noticed that the dog seemed suddenly addicted to his drinking water – and that he seemed to be ill. [Ed] Bidlack said that his wife took the beagle to the vet but that “it just got worse – he wouldn’t eat, he would shake and he had blood in his stool. He had many issues.” By the fall, the vets had diagnosed the dog with lymphoma – no cause could be identified – and he was put to sleep several weeks later.
Read more about Corbett and the rest of the Bidlack’s story here: “How a Natural-gas Tycoon Tapped into Corbett.”
Bunch’s second piece from June 29th’s Daily News also about Governor Corbett is also devastating. “Waste Management Stint trashed from Guv’s Bio” opens with,
“For four years, Corbett worked as an attorney and spokesman for the nation’s largest trash-hauling and disposal firm, Waste Management Inc., in which he advocated for his employer to dump massive amounts of out-of-state garbage in Pennsylvania.
But now that Corbett is governor, his official state biography tells a different story.”
“Corbett’s work for Waste Management was an issue in the hotly contested 2004 campaign. His main GOP primary opponent, then-Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor, called Corbett “Forest Dump” and attacked his “dirty ties to the trash industry.”
But by the time Corbett ran for governor in 2010, the issue had faded. And now, at least on his official bio, the past of a landfill defender is completely buried.”