The energy and natural resources sector was among leading 2012 campaign contributors to area state representatives including the chief sponsor of proposed regulations to govern a controversial oil and gas extraction process known as fracking.
So, too, were contributions from labor.
Much of the combined contributions from energy came from oil and gas donors, some of which are headquartered outside of Illinois, although they may conduct business in the state.
State Reps. John Bradley, D-Marion; Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro; and Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, combined to receive more than $100,000 from the energy sector while seeking re-election in 2012, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Bradley received $77,800 for his 2012 candidacy from energy and natural resources, second only to labor’s $110,069. Within the energy sector, oil and gas was the largest contributor, giving $47,250.
The energy sector was the leading contributor to Bost’s campaign that year, taking in $31,350, almost twice as that of the second leading contributor. Oil and gas made up $6,000 of that total.
Phelps campaign took in $38,050 from energy, $8,300 of which came from oil and gas.
The institute is a self-described nonpartisan, nonprofit group “dedicated to accurate, comprehensive and unbiased documentation and research on campaign finance at the state level,” according to its website: http://www.followthemoney.org/index.phtml.
Legislators: We’re clean
Bradley, the chief sponsor who introduced a fracking regulatory bill last month, and Bost, a participant in nearly 10-months of talks to get to this point, scoffed at the contributions as having any influence on them.
Phelps only recently signed on to HB2615 as a sponsor.
“I’m very careful about ethics and potential conflicts of interest,” Bradley said. “I stayed away from that issue (fracking) until the summer of 2012 when I was concerned the regulation would not be suffi-cient to protect the groundwater and to protect the areas of the state that I care about, which is South-ern Illinois.”
As Friday showed, the allegiance among legislators, oil and gas interests and some environmental groups can be complicated and even fragile.
Late last week, Bradley introduced a third amendment that would require Illinois well-water licensing, a move regarded as providing jobs for local union workers.
While oil and gas were big contributors to his campaign, so too was labor, giving him in excess of $110,000.
Oil and gas representatives involved in drafting the bill are upset with the amendment, saying it will require more negotiating. They remain committed to the bill as introduced last month.
Bost called the amendment a moratorium on fracking and said should the bill pass with the amendment, it could potentially kill any prospect of fracking occurring in Illinois until the political climate is more in their favor.
“All these jobs are going to go by the wayside,” Bost said. “There will be nobody to blame but, once again, the government of the state of Illinois. … We’re going to be broke and we’re going to continue to be broke.”
As for the campaign contributions, he too was dismissive.
The contributors ranged from individual, local geologists to out-of-state corporations with multiple oil and gas related operations and interests that may or may not include fracking.
“I support this because of jobs. I don’t support it because of a campaign contribution. … There are many groups and organizations (across sectors) that have given me money over the years. We have to run our campaigns. They cost money,” Bost said.
Bradley and Bost each also point out that the regulatory bill has been widely touted as containing the strongest fracking rules in the nation, a statement made by others involved in talks including some environmental groups.
Reaction to the campaign contributions from fracking opponents was mixed when reached last week, ranging from reluctant acceptance because of a plagued political system when it comes to money to outright condemnation of what was described as a clear conflict of interest.
“I believe that the oil and gas industry’s campaign contributions to Rep. Bradley do affect his ability to keep an open mind about the dangers of fracking,” said Vito Mastrangelo,” a member of the legal team for Southern Illinoisans Against Fracking the Environment.
A second SAFE legal team member, Richard Fedder, was not as harsh, saying the legislators have done what every other politician does. Instead, he blamed a broken political system fed by campaign contributions.
Where Fedder did come down hard was on the proposed regulatory bill for what he described as significant gaps in protecting the environment and health of Southern Illinoisans.
While he acknowledges that the proposed rules would hold the industry more accountable than anywhere else in the country, “being strict does not make regulations safe.”
Proponents point to months of negotiations on fracking regulation and input from a wide range of environmental groups.
Fedder, however, said some in those groups are more interested in compromise than in representing the environmental concerns of the region where most fracking would occur. SAFE, he said, was not included in discussions on the legislation.
While negotiations on new legislation are to continue, it does not matter to SAFE. The only General Assembly action their members support is a moratorium on fracking, Fedder said.
“We oppose (the bill) whichever way those debates come out,” Fedder said. “The bill is flawed for many reasons.”
Several environmental groups represented in talks, including the National Resource Defense Council, the Environmental Law and Policy Center and others have maintained they prefer a moratorium but should a halt not be enacted, it is better to be at the table to establish rules than not be.