Appalachian Basin

On a Natural Gas Powered Stove, the Pot Calls the Kettle Black

The topic of campaign contributions is one natural gas opponents bring up quite frequently, especially in light of the many pro-development candidates elected in New York during this past election. What they do not discuss though is the amount of money they, too, have been spending since 2009.

Does a candidate’s decision to accept campaign contributions make them a poor choice to represent the public? No, it’s a practice that has taken place throughout history and tends to offer the means for candidates to effectively campaign.  The New York local elections were no different than anywhere else in the country, with candidates accepting campaign contributions from many different people, including in some cases the natural gas industry. Contributions were also accepted, and have been since at least 2009, from individuals and organizations strongly opposed to natural gas development.

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Our local elections this past November were overwhelmingly supportive of natural gas development in New York State. Those successful candidates will be taking their positions during the coming weeks and are, obviously, proud to stand up for natural gas development. They staked positions in support of natural gas in contrast to their opponents and provided voters with clear choices.

Still,  opponents refuse to accept this simple fact; a plurality of individuals in New York supports natural gas.

Given this support, opponents resort to questioning where the sources of funding for these candidates’ originated.  That way, they can avoid the painful reality that the public doesn’t share its own opinions and instead focus on creating a controversy where none exists.

The Capitol Pressroom, a radio show, discussed the topic of campaign contributions last week, with interesting findings relevant to the topic of natural gas development.

The Capitol Pressroom for 01/04/2013

Reporter Roundtable…Fracking related campaign contributions in Southern Tier …US Chamber Energy Policy Institute says 44,000 jobs in state this related to fracking.

We end this first week of 2013 with a reporter roundtable. Kyle Hughes, a reporter from NYS News and our guest host for the day, will talk with Mike Gormley, Albany Bureau Chief of the Associated Press, and Rick Karlin of the Times Union about what to expect from Albany this year. The session is 5 days away, which means speculation is rampant.

Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause of New York, will discuss a recent report, which found that pro-fracking interests donated nearly $400,000 in 10 races. ‘In some cases pro-fracking contributions made up over 20% of the candidate’s total fundraising,’ Lerner said. We’ll discuss why she claims this analysis means that the election was not a “mandate” in support of fracking.

On the flip-fracking side, Chris Guith, VP of policy for the US Chamber Energy Policy Institute, explains an IHS CERA Global Insight report, showing that 44,000 jobs in the state this year were connected with the hydraulic fracturing or other ‘unconventional’ oil and gas production method industries.

It’s mind blowing when people  think the only reason candidates support natural gas is because of campaign contributions, but then refuse to recognize the Park Foundation donations to a multitude of different anti-natural gas development groups designed solely to politicize the natural gas debate.

One example of these contributions is the Community Environmental Council (CEDC).  Supposedly, the CEDC is just another non-profit charity doing pro bono work but, of course, it has a very political agenda. Double standard? Indeed. Please read through this link as well.  It’s extremely interesting although I will quote a lot of it.

“There was a total of $117,750 provided to the Community Environmental Defense Council, a husband-and-wife team of Ithaca lawyers who have pushed the benefits of municipal hydrofracking bans. Close to $300,000 since 2009 has gone to Environmental Advocates of New York for anti-hydrofracking campaigns.”

Common Cause is another great example. The Park Foundation gave them $50,000 (taken from their own records) to spread an anti-gas message to as many people as possible.

Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest. Now with nearly 400,000 members and supporters and 36 state organizations, Common Cause remains committed to honest, open and accountable government, as well as encouraging citizen participation in democracy.”

Why are natural gas opponents not challenging Common Cause for touting the Park Foundation agenda?  After all Common Cause represents itself a “nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization.”  This is supposed to be a “vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard.” Doesn’t it seem odd they are taking contributions from a group with a hard-core anti-gas political agenda as noted in this 2012 expose originally reported by Gannett:

“Since 2009, the Park Foundation has spread around more than $3 million to dozens of advocacy groups and other institutions that oppose hydrofracking or to those that have produced research on the technique, according to a Gannett Albany bureau review of tax filings and information on the non-profit’s website.

The foundation appears to be the most prominent financial backer of the anti-hydrofracking movement in New York. And while it doesn’t actively promote its involvement in the anti-fracking effort, it doesn’t hide from it either.

‘In our work to oppose fracking, the Park Foundation has simply helped to fuel an army of courageous individuals and (non-governmental organizations),’ Adelaide Park Gomer, president of the foundation’s board of trustees, said in accepting an award last year from Common Cause/NY, a good-government group.”

Let’s look at a few more things the Park Foundation funded as noted in the previous investigative report. A simple review lends creedence to the idea that the Park Foundation is essentially “hiring” people to promote a single political message?

“The foundation sent a total of $175,000 in 2010 and 2011 to the production company behind Gasland, an Oscar-nominated documentary on the negative environmental aspects of hydrofracking that has drawn ire from the gas industry.

Food and Water Watch, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Earthworks, Earthjustice and Citizens Campaign for the Environment — all groups that have pushed for permanent or temporary hydrofracking bans in New York — have split a total of $758,000.

On the research side, about $208,000 has gone to Cornell University studies that cast doubt on the economic and climate-related benefits of gas drilling. Last year, $50,000 went to a Duke University researcher who released a study on methane migration near gas wells. Common Cause has received $175,000 to fund a series of reports detailing the industry’s spending on lobbying in New York and Pennsylvania.”

None of these expenditures get counted as lobbying, of course, or even as 501(c)4 expenditures, which is how the Park Foundation and, most certainly, the CEDC should be registered with the IRS, but are not.   Instead these organizations pretend to be dis-interested charities that don’t have any political axes to grind, when a quick review shows this is clearly not the case.  Far from being disinterested charities these organizations have taken a gigantic leap to being activists groups that are the driving force against natural gas development.

It’s simple, Park funds groups to influence political activity, especially at the local level through the CEDC. Then these groups launch an attack against natural gas development under the shroud of being labeled as a charity. So, in a sense, they are actually the ones working to manipulate political activity, and the public, without disclosing their investments.  After all, industry has to publish its political contributions where as if Gannett hadn’t decided to conduct this investigative report none of us would be the wiser to the puppet master role being played by the Park Foundation.

It’s all part of the scheme being employed by natural gas activists determined to make the public think the majority of upstate New York is against natural gas development.  It’s nothing more than a smokescreen to hide the truth.  Meanwhile, the Park Foundation keeps donating millions of dollars to opposing natural gas development and operating as a charity.  However, these days the only thing the Park Foundation is charitable towards is their own effort to shape the natural gas political debate.

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