By MATTHEW DONDIEGO, Legislative Gazette
January 14, 2014
A new report released Monday shows pro-fracking interest groups have spent a staggering $64.3 million on campaign contributions and lobbying efforts in recent years to pressure state lawmakers to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York.
Hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as "fracking," is a natural gas extraction process that blasts high volumes of water, sand and chemicals into gas-rich rock formations to release the natural gas.
The report, titled "Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets in New York State," was prepared by Common Cause/NY and details the vast amount of money spent in the state on behalf of both fracking proponents and anti-fracking activists. The report is a more detailed version of information released on pro-fracking lobbying efforts last summer and shows a great disparity in the amount of money spent by pro-fracking organizations compared to anti-fracking advocacy groups, with supporters of the controversial drilling process outspending opponents 9 to 1.
"Hydraulic fracturing has been one of the most polarizing issues in recent history, with no shortage of political money invested by pro-fracking interests to achieve a favorable outcome. The persistent and accelerated spending is cause for concern as lawmakers weigh this key decision. Yet despite being outspent by nearly 9 to 1, organized people have managed to overcome the advantage of organized money to make their voices heard. Nevertheless New York State needs comprehensive campaign finance and lobbying reform to assure New Yorkers that public policy is based on their interest, not the special interests," said Executive Director of Common Cause/NY Susan Lerner.
According to the report, since 2007, pro-fracking interests have written checks for a total of $15.4 million in campaign contributions and a whopping $48.9 million on lobbying efforts. The anti-fracking movement has spent $5.4 million on lobbying efforts and $1.9 million on campaign contributions in the same time period. Since 2011, powerful pro-fracking forces have begun shelling out larger amounts of money, nearly doubling the amount spent over the previous four-year period, according to Common Cause/NY.
Overwhelmingly, pro-fracking interests focused on the majority party in both the Senate and Assembly, also kicking up contribution amounts to legislators with leadership positions from both parties. The legislator who received the most from the pro-fracking industry was Binghamton-area Republican Senator Tom Libous who received $368,305 — nearly double the next highest, Sen. George Marziarz, R–Newfane, who received $193,381. Libous, the Senate Republican Conference Deputy Leader, is one of the most vocal fracking supporters in the state Legislature, insisting that moving forward with fracking would bring economic and job relief to the ailing Southern Tier Region of the state.
Other notable Republicans to receive large campaign contributions include Senate Majority Leader and Co-President Dean Skelos, who received $108, 831; Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, accepting $130,574; Sen. Cathy Young, who received $77,545; and Senate Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Mark Grisanti, given just over $61,000. A number of fracking-related bills died in the Environmental Committee last session, including a two-year fracking moratorium bill (A.05424-a/S.04236-a) that overwhelmingly passed the Assembly last March.
Six Democratic legislators were included in the top 20 who received the highest amount campaign contributions. Most heavily pressured by the industry were Sens. Jeff Klein of the Bronx, David Valesky of Oneida, and the scandal-scarred former Senate Leader Malcolm Smith of Queens and Assembly members Speaker Sheldon Silver of Manhattan, Majority Leader Joe Morelle of Irondequoit and Robin Schimminger of Kenmore — one of just two Assembly Democrats to vote against the fracking moratorium bill.
Valesky received the most contributions among Democrats, receiving $84,225 followed by Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Klein who received $65,995. Schimminger, received $54, 708.
Despite failing to extend the fracking moratorium originally passed in 2011, a de facto moratorium on fracking has been in place while a comprehensive health impact assessment is conducted at the behest of Gov. Andrew Cuomo is completed by the Department of Health.