By CG Editor-in-Chief Erich Hiner
An analysis of Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s campaign finance records and the new governor’s policies suggest that Ohio’s oil, gas, coal and energy producers have made a strong ally in the statehouse.
Political action committees, or PACs, and industry leaders in the energy and fossil fuels sectors gave Kasich’s campaign a combined $639,670, a sum three and half times larger than the amount given by the sector to former governor Ted Strickland during his campaign.
Contributions from energy and fuel companies made up roughly 6 percent of Kasich’s donations greater than $2,500. About a quarter of those contributions came from the oil and gas industry, according to records kept by the Ohio Secretary of State.
In contrast, contributions from the energy sector made up 1.4 percent of Strickland’s donations greater than $2,500. Only 7 percent of those came from oil and gas companies or PACs.
Kasich’s backers also donated to his campaign at a higher rate. Kasich’s campaign received more than Strickland’s despite having half the time to do so. Strickland began receiving energy sector contributions in 2007 while Kasich began receiving them in 2009.
The analysis included all contributions of $2,500 or more made between 2007 and 2010. Campaign donations from individuals were counted only if the contributor held an executive position at his or her company. Donations by immediate family members of executives were also included.
The contributions mirror the political divide between Kasich and Strickland, who differ greatly in their approaches to fuel and energy policy.
Kasich, a Republican, has pushed for increased oil and gas exploration in Ohio since taking office in January. He has called Southeast Ohio’s shale-oil deposits a potential “Godsend” and has proposed allowing drilling in state parks.
Strickland, a Democrat, opposed drilling on state land and gave strong government incentives for companies to develop alternative energy sources such as wind and solar.
The almost complete support of Kasich by the energy sector came as somewhat of a surprise to some in the political arena. State Representative Debbie Phillips, a Democrat from Athens, said it was obvious which candidate Ohio’s oil, gas, coal and energy producers supported.
“We noticed that the contributions were very partisan from certain industries pretty early on in the election cycle,” Phillips said. “It seemed a very clear dividing line.”
While some large companies such as Duke Energy, American Electric Power and First Energy donated to both candidates, the majority sided exclusively with Kasich. Phillips said the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, or OOGA, made a commitment early in the election season to contribute only to Republicans.
OOGA Communications Director Brian Hickman said the organization could not comment for this article because OOGA Executive Vice President Thomas E. Stewart was not available for an interview.
Luis Clemente, a political science professor at Ohio University, said the support of Kasich by the energy lobby should come as no surprise given the governor’s pro-business and anti-regulatory politics.
“He’s making no qualms about making Ohio grow and bringing big corporations back in,” Clemente said. “He’s speaking their language.”
Kasich received contributions from Marathon Oil, Oxford Oil and Border Energy among other companies. The single largest body of energy-sector contributions came from high-ranking executives of the Columbus-based Boich Companies, who collectively donated $135, 346 to Kasich’s campaign.
Large contributors usually donate to both political parties, Clemente said. Area politicians and advocates are split on what caused the energy sector’s shift to the right.
The sector leaned toward the Republican camp because of increased government pressure, said Athens County Republican Chair Pete Couladis.
Couladis said he knows many small business owners in the oil and gas industry, and they felt threatened by what Couladis said were Strickland’s connections with radical environmental groups. Those connections, combined with increased environmental regulations, pressured the energy sector to become political, he said.
“They were never involved in politics until this past election,” Couladis said. “They might have been registered Republicans, but they’ve never … attended a fundraising dinner.”
Environmental advocates disagree.
Jack Shaner, senior director of legislative and public affairs for the Ohio Environmental Council, said the industry has chosen to support Kasich and other Republicans because of the potential for increased oil drilling in Ohio.
An industry-friendly governor could open up Ohio to more drilling, Shaner said. That possibility attracted larger companies to support candidates they thought would expand the market and decrease regulations.
“We’ve gone from relatively small, independent oil and gas drillers to now massive companies and corporations including Exxon and Chesapeake,” Shaner said. “The players involved are bigger now.”
Other environmental advocates believe it does not matter to whom companies contribute. Industrial campaign contributions to any candidate in any party can ultimately harm the democratic process, said Janina Klimas, a coordinator for the Ohio Student Environmental Coalition.
“We need to get dirty money out of politics. Any industrial money is dirty money in my mind,” Klimas said. “That’s just a slippery slope, and we shouldn’t play that game in the first place.”
Clemente said the impact of campaign contributions is difficult to predict. It is hard to tell whether candidates’ agendas are shaped by donations or if contributors support candidates with views like theirs, he said. Clemente said the real answer is likely a combination of both.
Shaner said Kasich favors oil and gas, and that his backers likely chose him because of his politics. Whether the contributions influence the governor’s future decisions is yet to be seen, he said.
“Certainly it’s agenda-backing, and history will have to decide to if it’s agenda-shaping,” Shaner said.