The growing fracking industry is "yielding gushers" of campaign donations for congressional candidates—particularly Republicans from districts with fracking activity—according to a new report from the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
The report, "Natural Cash: How the Fracking Industry Fuels Congress," examines data compiled by MapLight covering a period spanning from 2004 to 2012. In that time, CREW finds, contributions from companies that operate hydraulic fracturing wells and fracking-related industry groups rose 180 percent, from $4.3 million nine years ago to about $12 million in the last election cycle.
These donations are flowing to members of Congress at a time when some legislators are trying to increase regulation of fracking, a process in which drillers inject a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into the bedrock to release oil and natural gas reserves. The most serious of these legislative efforts is the FRAC Act. First introduced in 2009, the act would require EPA regulation of the industry and would force fracking companies to disclose the chemicals that they inject under high pressure into the ground. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill are stalled in committee.
"So far, the industry has successfully fended off almost all federal regulation of fracking," CREW's report notes. The report adds that the biggest increase in donations from the fracking industry came between 2010 and 2012, when Congress was particularly active on fracking issues.
Candidates from districts where fracking is concentrated—CREW identifies 94 such districts—experienced the biggest windfall. (CREW built an interactive map showing the industry's contributions over time in states home to fracking.) The industry's political contributions to those candidates rose 231 percent, from $2.1 million to $6.9 million. That's nearly twice the increase in their contributions to senators and members of Congress from districts without any fracking activity. CREW identified ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Chesapeake Energy as the industry's three largest donors.
The fracking industry's increase in giving far outstrips the increase in political donations from the oil and gas sector at large, which rose 104 percent over the same period. The whole oil and gas sector gave $35.6 million to congressional candidates in last year's election.
Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas, was head and shoulders above his fellow candidates in donations from the fracking industry. Barton accepted more than half a million dollars—$100,000 more than any other candidate. In the past, he chaired the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and he sponsored legislation in 2005 to exempt the fracking industry from the Safe Drinking Water Act. A version of that bill became law and prevented the EPA from exercising key oversight over fracking activity.
Republicans in general benefited from the industry's largesse far more than Democrats. "Nearly 80 percent of fracking industry contributions to congressional candidates went to Republicans," the report notes. Republican candidates from fracking districts saw their donations from this sector go up 268 percent. According to the report, only six of the top 50 recipients of fracking industry contributions among current members were Democrats." Only one Democrat—Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana—cracked the top 10 list of fracking money recipients.