New energy interests donate to campaigns in Pa. races

GOP candidates for AG, treasurer get largest contributions

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The latest cycle of campaign contributions in Pennsylvania state races included donations from new energy interests -- either those drilling in the state or those trying to stop it -- as well as two of the largest contributions from energy company political action groups yet, according to a Post-Gazette analysis of contribution filings.

Republican Attorney General candidate David Freed received a $10,000 contribution from the Chesapeake Energy political action committee, enough to make up almost half of the $23,000 in energy-related contributions that he received in the cycle recorded from Sept. 18 to Oct. 22.

Republican state Treasurer Diana Irey Vaughan of Washington County received $10,000 from the PAC affiliated with Cecil-based Consol Energy. That single donation is nearly double the total amount of energy-related contributions Ms. Irey Vaughan has received all year.

Political action committees associated with Marcellus Shale drillers have been making donations to this year's state races for attorney general, auditor general and state treasurer since the contribution season began Jan. 2.

An updated Post-Gazette analysis of contribution reports submitted to the Department of State found gas drilling firm PACs have donated $46,500 to the six major party candidates in those three races so far this year. More than $30,000 of that total came in the latest cycle.

When energy-related PACs and utility firms are taken into account, the total contributions jump to $123,250. Donations made in the final days of the election won't be known until the winners are decided, since contribution filings from the current cycle aren't due until Dec. 6.

Opponents to gas drilling also jumped into the fray recently, with the Sierra Club environmental advocacy organization donating $2,000 to Democratic auditor general candidate Eugene DePasquale.

His opponent, Republican John Maher, received $3,000 from various energy PACs, including those representing Range Resources and MarkWest Liberty. (Mr. Maher also received a $500 donation from a PAC supporting Pennsylvania coal development -- the first pro-coal donation in the state races so far.)

Both auditor general candidates have pledged to examine how the state regulates and monitors shale gas drilling if elected.

The race for attorney general has seen the most-heated shale debate and the most energy money by far, mostly due to Mr. Freed's $92,250 in energy-interest contributions. He received $23,000 of that in this latest cycle, with donations from major driller PACs representing Chesapeake Energy, Consol Energy and Range Resources, as well as a $1,500 donation from the PAC run by Anadarko Petroleum Corp. of Denver.

In the latest cycle, Mr. Freed's opponent, Democratic prosecutor Kathleen Kane of Lackawanna County, broke her streak of no energy-related contributions with a $1,000 donation from the state PAC for Downtown-based EQT Corp.

As in previous cycles, most of the energy PAC contributions were small, with most falling between $250 and $1,500.

For example, Ms. Irey Vaughan received $250 from the Chesapeake Energy PAC and $500 from the GGR Inc. PAC, which donates on behalf of the Gmerek Government Relations firm that has worked to expand natural gas business in the past. Yet her $10,000 contribution from the Consol Energy PAC is among the largest seen in this campaign from an energy firm.

Ms. Irey Vaughan says supporting low tax rates while serving as a Washington County commissioner has helped bring drillers to the area, and she held her first treasurer campaign event at Consol's headquarters.

Her opponent, incumbent Democratic Treasurer Robert McCord, received $4,500 from energy interests in the latest cycle, none of which came directly from company PACs.

Go to http://bit.ly/StateRaceCash for the Post-Gazette report on energy industry contributions in cycles 1 through 4.

businessnews

Erich Schwartzel: eschwartzel@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455.


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