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A new “Moreland Monday” analysis* released today by Common Cause/NY is raising serious questions about the potential influence of millions of dollars in campaign contributions on public policy relating to natural gas fracking in New York. The analysis of campaign contributions from donors with an interest in natural gas drilling in New York State revealed that from January 2007 to March 2013 these interests, totaling 183 entities, contributed over $14 million to state and local politicians and parties. The Fair Elections for New York campaign is calling on the newly created Moreland Commission to subpoena all relevant information related to contributions as part of their sweeping investigation of corruption in New York State.
The Common Cause/NY analysis shows that the leading recipients of pro-fracking money in the State Legislature are the most vocal supporters of its expansion in New York, with fracking interest money concentrating largely on Senators from Western New York and the Southern Tier and the leadership in the Assembly.
“Powerful businesses and industries which stand to benefit from fracking use campaign contributions to gain influence with their local lawmakers, candidates, and party organizations. We see a wide spectrum of fracking related interests taking full advantage of New York’s lax campaign finance laws in the hope of a future payday if fracking is permitted. ” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.
The Fair Elections for New York campaign released the following statement in response to the Common Cause/NY analysis: “This is precisely why Governor Cuomo and Attorney General Schneiderman created this Moreland Commission: to investigate the abuse of the campaign finance system by special interests who are looking to influence public policy with their deep pockets. The Fair Elections for New York campaign is calling for the Moreland Commission to use their sweeping powers to subpoena all relevant information related to these campaign contributions, and these special interests and members of the legislature should have to testify under oath about the decisions they have made as public servants, and whether these contributions influenced those decisions.”
Complete contribution data can be found on the spreadsheets accompanying this release and online at www.commoncause.org/ny/deepdrillingdeeppockets
Common Cause/NY’s analysis broadly defines “pro-fracking interests” as the full spectrum of industries involved in natural gas production rather than only the drillers. In New York, the largest campaign contributors involved in the business of fracking are the supporting industries like engineering firms, pipeline owners, chemical companies, construction industry organizations and unions, law firms with oil and gas practices, and other affiliated members of pro-fracking organizations such as IOGA and Clean Growth Now. Major statewide and regional business lobbies like the Business Council of NYS, Unshackle Upstate, and Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce have also taken leading roles in advocating for fracking. This updated study does not include contributions from natural gas utilities such as Con Edison or natural gas power plant operators who have only a secondary interest in fracking.
Issues for Further Investigation by Moreland Commission
1. Examine the timing of the contributions made to the top legislative recipients in relation to the introduction or discussion of fracking related bills.
2. Examine the involvement of lobbyists and bundlers relating to the contributions to the top legislative recipients.
3. Examine the circumstances of, and any conversations which took place in relation to, the donations made to the Senate and Assembly campaign committees.
The State Senate is by far the largest repository of pro-fracking interest money, with nearly $3.9 million going to candidates and party committees in the chamber. The County level party committees are the next largest recipient at $2.8 million, followed by State Assembly candidates and party committees ($1.8 million), County Executives and Legislators ($1.7 million) and candidates for Governor ($1.2 million).
Within the State Legislature, Senators Tom Libous (R-52) and George Maziarz (R-52) are far and away the top recipients of pro-fracking interest money and are the most vocal supporters of fracking in the State Senate. Overall, 16 of the top 20 legislator recipients are Senators and all of the Republican Senators from Western New York and the Southern Tier are among the Top 20. In the Assembly, only four members make the top 20 – Speaker Sheldon Silver, Deputy Majority Leader Joe Morelle and Republican Minority Leader Brian Kolb, as well as Robin Schimminger, one of only two Assembly Democrats to vote against the 2013 fracking moratorium bill.
In addition to Legislative candidates and committees, pro-fracking interests are concentrating their local giving primarily in Western and Central New York and the Southern Tier, pouring funds into the party committees of Monroe, Niagara, Erie, Onondaga, and Broome counties as well as into the coffers of County Executives and other local elected representatives. A number of the largest pro-fracking donors are Western New York law firms and engineering companies who work in the oil and gas production sector and stand to benefit from potential new business from fracking. They are additionally members of gas industry groups like IOGA and local business lobbies like Unshackle Upstate, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, Rochester Business Alliance, and Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce, groups which have been at the forefront of the lobbying effort to bring fracking to New York.
Money also follows power, with donors giving more to candidates aligned with the majority party in either house of the Legislature than the minority party: $2,218,213 to Republican and Independent Democratic Conference candidates for Senate vs. $496,063 to Democrats, and $784,942 to Democratic candidates for Assembly vs. $429,617 to Republicans. The same rule applies to party committees (including “soft money” housekeeping accounts) with Senate Republicans ($899,179) outstripping Senate Democrats’ ($254,976) and Assembly Democrats ($447,578) trouncing Assembly Republicans ($174,878). New York’s statewide officials Governor Andrew Cuomo ($832,650), Attorney General Schneiderman ($94,600), and Comptroller DiNapoli ($66,100) also received significant sums from pro-fracking interests.
Common Cause/NY recognizes that because we take a broad view of pro-fracking interests some contributions included in this dataset, such as those from major business lobbies like the Business Council of NYS, may be related to other issues. However, this data taken as a whole provides an accurate measure of the power and influence of pro-fracking business interests in state and local government.
In contrast to the $14 million+ spent by pro-fracking interests since 2007, among all the groups involved in anti-fracking advocacy, Communications Workers of America is the only significant campaign contributor ($1.8 million since 2007) and fracking is not a primary priority in CWA’s policy agenda. Other than CWA, which joined New Yorkers Against Fracking in 2012, there is less than $50,000 in anti-fracking organization and PAC contributions. With the exception of small amounts from Citizen Action and the Sierra Club, New York’s environmental and civic organizations that are advocating against fracking do not use campaign contributions to try to influence policy.
In the fall, Common Cause/NY will be releasing a full report on the scope and influence of money-in-politics in the debate over New York fracking, which will include detailed lobbying data and campaign contributions from both pro and anti-fracking interests.
*This is the first in a series of analyses which highlight failings of our campaign finance system that are worthy of further inquiry and investigation by the Moreland Commission empaneled to examine corruption and problems with campaign finance.