Candidates spar over gas industry contributions

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HARRISBURG -- With the gubernatorial election just a month away, Democrat Dan Onorato and Republican Tom Corbett are increasing the shrillness of their attacks on each other's campaign contributions.

Mr. Onorato, in a statewide conference call with reporters Friday, said that as of the latest campaign finance reports, his opponent has accepted more than $900,000 in donations from the gas industry.

"Tom Corbett is in the pocket of Big Oil and Gas," Mr. Onorato claimed. "He will defend their profits and not do anything for taxpayers."

The $900,000 figure is up from the $372,000 in campaign donations to Mr. Corbett from Marcellus Shale interests reported by Common Cause/Pennsylvania in August. Mr. Onorato, who himself has gotten at least $74,000 from Marcellus drillers, said additional contributions to Mr. Corbett are listed on the latest campaign reports submitted to the state.

Kevin Harley, a top Corbett aide, didn't dispute the $900,000 figure but countered that Mr. Onorato has accepted "over $1 million" in contributions from the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. "He's in the pocket of the trial lawyers," Mr. Harley charged.

He said Mr. Corbett has 18,000 campaign contributors and he's not beholden to any of them.

Mr. Onorato brought up the gas industry contributions as he criticized Mr. Corbett for his opposition to any kind of tax on natural gas pumped from the many areas of underground Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Onorato charged that Mr. Corbett's continuing opposition to such a levy means "he is playing to the industry's interests instead of the people."

Mr. Onorato urged the state Legislature to adopt a Marcellus Shale gas tax before leaving Harrisburg later this month.

Mr. Onorato said the money from the shale gas tax should go for restoring budget cuts to the state Department of Environmental Protection, for fixing municipal roads and bridges damaged by heavy drilling equipment and for refilling the state's Growing Greener fund to protect open space and preserve farmland.

Mr. Onorato wouldn't specify his preferred rate for a Marcellus tax but said the rate of 39 cents per 1,000 cubic feet of gas, approved by the state House this week, was too high. He also said that state Senate Republicans' plan for a 1.5 percent tax on the market price of gas pumped from the ground was too low.

He said that if legislators fail to enact a shale tax this month -- and if he's elected Nov. 2 -- he would unveil his own shale gas tax plan on the day he's sworn into office in January.

But Corbett aide Harley scoffed that voters "shouldn't believe a word that comes out of Dan Onorato's mouth."

Mr. Harley said the $1 million in contributions from the lawyers association has caused Mr. Onorato to side with trial lawyers in blocking "lawsuit reform," such as a law to limit damages for "pain and suffering" in personal injury suits.

As for Marcellus Shale, Mr. Harley said, "Tom Corbett is for jobs, while Dan Onorato is for taxes." He said Mr. Onorato should divulge details of his shale tax plan now.

He said Mr. Corbett has already released a plan for environmental protection, such as increasing the amounts of bonds that drillers must post in order to get a drilling permit and increasing fines for harming the environment.

"Tom Corbett has prosecuted some of the worst polluters in Pennsylvania," Mr. Harley said. "He's the only candidate with a record of protecting the environment."


Bureau chief Tom Barnes: tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254.


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