Did the largest natural gas producer in America buy our PA attorney general and help him become governor? Sure looks like it. Will Bunch at the Daily News:
IN THE OIL-AND-GAS business, it’s called a wildcat well – when a prospector takes a big risk drilling deep in an unexplored area.
In 2004, a flamboyant Oklahoma City multimillionaire took out his hefty checkbook for what you could call the political equivalent of a wildcat well – and he struck a gusher, right here in Pennsylvania.
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.
That investment arguably changed not just the history but also the political direction of the state. The influx of cash helped Corbett narrowly win the closest attorney general’s race in Pennsylvania history and propelled him toward the governor’s mansion, where he has now pledged to turn the Keystone State into “the Texas of the natural-gas boom.”
Meanwhile, the hard-charging company run by McClendon, Chesapeake Energy, is the largest and most active driller for natural gas both in Pennsylvania and across the United States – and its environmental record here is under fire for two major well accidents in the past year and allegations from upstate residents of tainted well water.
The donations also spun a political mystery that may never be answered.
Did Oklahoma gas driller McClendon see the coming boom in drilling in the gas-rich, Pennsylvania-centered formation known as the Marcellus Shale back in 2004? And did he see his massive campaign contributions – filtered through an obscure GOP committee – as a shrewd down payment on future political access and influence?
Or was it merely a case of what McClendon and Chesapeake officials have maintained all along – that the energy millionaire was simply writing so many checks for conservative causes that year, including $250,000 for the notorious John Kerry-bashing Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth, that he wasn’t even aware that his cash was going to the state’s future top prosecutor?
“The contribution occurred long before Chesapeake had any activity in Pennsylvania,” said Matt Sheppard, a company spokesman. “It is terribly misguided to imply that this contribution was made with future political considerations in mind. The [committee] . . . gave the money to the Corbett campaign without notifying Chesapeake or Mr. McClendon.”
Environmentalists say the motive for the 2004 donation doesn’t matter so much as the impact: Pennsylvania’s Republican-dominated statehouse is now headed by a governor so tight with the natural-gas industry that he continues to resist levies on drilling – saying yesterday that he would veto even a modest fee plan on wells that was postponed last night in the state House. Rather than tax drillers like Chesapeake, Corbett is instead poised to sign a budget that slashes $270 million for Philadelphia schools and deeply cuts social programs such as job training and aid for day care.