Fracking interests spent heavily to influence NC lawmakers

With the debate over fracking for natural gas heating up at the North Carolina legislature, a new report from an elections watchdog group documents the industry's generous contributions to lawmakers' campaigns.

Legislators who supported a pro-fracking bill last year received more than triple the amount of campaign money from fracking interests than opponents of the bill, according to a report released today by North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections (NCVCE). In all, the political action committees of companies with an interest in fracking contributed to the campaigns of more than 100 N.C. legislators between 2009 and 2011 -- over $730,000 in all.

"Although we have great disclosure laws in this state, the public doesn't always make the connection between special interests and legislation being produced," says NCVCE Executive Director Melissa Price-Kromm. "We did this study to help the public make that connection.

The study looked at 10 companies with an interest in fracking. They are natural gas companies PSNC Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas; electric utilities Progress Energy, Duke Energy and Dominion Resources, which are expanding their use of natural gas to produce power; General Electric, which has invested in natural gas reserves in other states and introduced a mobile evaporator to help gas drillers recycle water; Weyerhaeuser, a major landowner that has invested in shale deposits; natural gas producer Koch Industries; and railroad companies Norfolk Southern and CSX, which are seeing an increase in fracking-related shipping.

The study comes a week after the state's Legislative Research Commission approved Senate Bill 820 sponsored by Sen. Robert Rucho (R-Mecklenburg) that would allow fracking in the state, where it's now banned, within two years. A leading proponent of fracking, Rucho (in photo) was also the sponsor of Senate Bill 709, the pro-fracking bill from 2011. While the House and Senate passed SB 709, Gov. Beverly Perdue (D) vetoed it, and the House was unable to muster the votes for an override.

Rucho received a total of $20,500 from the companies the NCVCE study considered. Other top recipients of the industry's contributions were Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R), who received $46,700, and House Speaker Thom Tillis (R), who received $43,650. Berger and Tillis played key roles in advancing pro-fracking legislation.

Between 2009 and 2011, the 10 fracking-related firms donated a total of $508,600 to the campaigns of N.C. House and Senate members who voted for SB 709, and $141,550 to those who voted against it.

To read the NCVCE report, titled "Power Politics: Fracking debate fuels campaign gifts to N.C. lawmakers from energy interests," click here.