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Study Shows Political Donations To Fracking Interests

Fracking has been one of the most prevalent policy topics inside the Statehouse. A new study follows the money to find out whether campaign contributions are driving the political agenda. In the past two years, the oil and gas industry has contributed $1.8 million to Ohio elected officials, political candidates and political parties. That’s according to a study conducted by Common Cause Ohio, a liberal-leaning advocacy group. The group says this illustrates a powerful lobbying effort to impact policies for hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. But the industry doesn’t represent the top spenders in the world of Ohio lobbying. According to the annual report from the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee, that distinction goes to the Wholesale Beer and Wine Association and the Ohio Environmental Council. So why the focus on fracking money? Catherine Turcer, policy analyst with Common Cause, says that JLEC report may not be getting the full story because of a lack of financial disclosure requirements for lobbyists. And while the beer and wine industry may appear to spend the most money, the most lobbied issue last year was oil and gas reform. Turcer: “We’ve had such significant changes in the policies in the last few years. This industry has come in like a steamroller.â€? In the top 25 list of officials receiving the most contributions from the oil and gas industry, all but one were Republican. The #1 recipient is Republican Representative Dave Hall who chairs the House committee that oversees most of the oil- and gas-related bills. Rounding out the top three are Republican House Speaker Bill Batchelder and Governor John Kasich. Common Cause says this money reflects power and access to lawmakers. But Tom Stewart, executive vice president with the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, says it’s very simple: the industry supports policymakers who share their ideals. Stewart: “You mean somebody should be surprised that we support the campaigns of legislators whose philosophy and support of business is in line with ours. Why would somebody expect us to support somebody who’s opposed to it?â€? Common Cause insists their study reflects a needed change in state lobbying laws. The group is calling on more in-depth financial disclosures including lobbyist salaries. They say these records will make their intentions more transparent. James Browning, regional director for Common Cause, says this information is especially important for former lawmakers turned lobbyists. Browning: “If a lawmaker leaves office then turns around and becomes a lobbyist for the natural gas industry—and there’s nothing to stop them from doing that in Ohio—and they start making a six-figure salary—we have no way of tracking that right now and no way of asking questions about what is going on here.â€? This is a stance Stewart adamantly opposes. Stewart: “That’s ridiculous. They often want lobbyists to disclose the fees they charge—it’s a business—they’re running a business. I would be very sympathetic to contract lobbyists who try to represent—respectfully represent their clients and then have to disclose the competitive ends of their business. That’s simply not fair.â€? Stewart stands proud of the different facets of oil and gas uniting behind a common goal to support the policies they believe to be best for their industry. As for Common Cause, they say Ohioans should have more access to follow the money and that requires what they call “significantâ€? legislative changes. Andy Chow at the Ohio Public Radio Statehouse News Bureau.