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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Explosive gas-drilling allegations in county executive campaign

Posted By on Wed, May 11, 2011 at 6:06 PM

After enduring more than a week's worth of heavy attacks from Rich Fitzgerald over his proposal to partner with gas drillers, Mark Patrick Flaherty knocked the pins out from his rival, releasing an e-mail that paints Fitzgerald as the guy too close to gas drillers.

In a press release sent this afternoon, Flaherty forwarded a Jan. 27 email from Fitzgerald to Katie Klaber, who heads the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an advocacy group for gas drillers. Flaherty claimed the e-mail was cc'ed to "dozens of oil company executives, demanding contributions if they want 'friends' in the Allegheny County Chief Executive Office."

We'll reprint the full e-mail below. But highlights include Fitzgerald saying:

  • "The next Chief Executive of Allegheny County will either be me or Mark Flaherty. If you want the leader of this region to be someone who is clueless about natural gas and your industry, continue to sit on your hands that is exactly what will happen."
  • "My campaign has gotten next to nothing from Range, next to nothing from CNX/Consol, next to nothing from Atlas, next to nothing from US Steel. And absolutely nothing from Chesapeake, Cabot, Talisman or anyone else. I love going to the expensive Captains of Industry' parties in New York City, but would rather have the "Captains" put their money behind a candidate who will promote the growth of industry.'
  • "I need money and I need it fast. Its great to hear from Dave Spiegelmeyer [an executive with gas driller Chesapeake Energy] about how wonderful I am for the industry, but what I really need from Dave is money. Not 'I wish I could be at your event, but I'm out of town. Just know we're behind you'. Well if you are, put your money where your mouth is and help fund this campaign."

Flaherty's release claims that "money from natural gas industry PACs started flowing into Fitzgerald's campaign within days of his email."  Though it's worth noting that Fitzgerald did receive money from the industry last summer: directly from gas companies EQT ($5,000) and Range Resources ($1,000).

To further illustrate Fitzgerald's closeness to the gas industry, Flaherty says that Fitzgerald's campaign manager, Mike Mikus, is a vice president for EIS Solutions, a public relations firm for the energy industry.

Fitzgerald spokesperson Olivia Benson confirmed that Fitzgerald did send the email.

"It's a campaign," Benson says. "Our campaign as well as the Flaherty campaign did speak with the drilling industry. We're both supportive of drilling as long as it's safe for the environment."

She says Flaherty's statement was "reactionary" -- an attempt to distract voters from Flaherty's own plan to partner up with gas-drillers, and invest taxpayer resources in well-drilling ventures.

Team Fitzgerald has sent out its own release, which says nothing about the e-mail at all. Instead, it dismisses Flaherty's attack as "desperate," and points out that his own campaign team has ties to prominent Republicans. Here's that statement:

Mark Patrick Flaherty is desperately trying to distract the voters because he knows that his risky scheme to borrow $2.5 billion to subsidize the natural gas companies is costing him dearly in the polls. Flaherty's shrill press release will not change the fact the both candidates are supportive of natural gas drilling that is safe and protects the environment. The difference on this issue is that Mark Patrick Flaherty wants the taxpayers to borrow $2.5 billion and pay higher property taxes so he can he can give the money to the drilling companies.

"Rich Fitzgerald's plan protects the environment and protects the taxpayer, while the Post-Gazette correctly pointed out that Mark Flaherty's plan puts taxpayer dollars at risk," Fitzgerald spokesperson Olivia Benson said. "He can issue all the shrill press releases he likes, but it doesn't change the fact that he has his risky plan to borrow $2.5 billion to give to the drilling companies on his campaign website."

Flaherty 's press release included an attack on Fitzgerald's campaign manager is another attempt to distract from his risky scheme. Fitzgerald's campaign manager Mike Mikus is a long-time Democratic operative having managed the campaigns of Democratic Congressmen Mark Critz and Jason Altmire in since 2008. On the other hand, Flaherty is using top Republican operatives -- Carey Dunn and Amy Petraglia - who have raised funds for Tom Corbett, Rick Santorum, Pat Toomey and scores of other Republican candidates in Pennsylvania.

"It's not surprising that Mark Patrick Flaherty shares staff and a PO Box with Governor Tom Corbett because he fights for gas companies and the taxpayers lose in the end just like Corbett," Benson said. "Mark Patrick Flaherty's risky scheme to subsidize natural gas companies and his attacks on Rich Fitzgerald are just more examples that he's taking a page out of Tom Corbett's playbook."

As unusual as it may be to see a politician pleading so nakedly for support from a special interest, environmentalists may not be surprised.

In our election coverage last week, we wrote that the handling of Marcellus Shale was the most important issue in Tuesday's primary. But even so, environmentalists we spoke to suspected that, when you get down to it, there aren't any real differences between the two.

"How am I supposed to get excited over two candidates who want to let drillers onto our county-owned land to drill for natural gas?" says Marcellus Shale activist Mel Packer. "It's like choosing between a guy who wants to beat me and a guy who wants to beat and rob me."

In any case, the narrative of the campaign may well be shifting. Until yesterday, issue #1 was Flaherty's plan to invest taxpayer dollars in gas-drilling. Now, it may be Fitzgerald's efforts to get gas-drillers to invest in him.

TEXT OF FITZGERALD'S EMAIL BELOW:

Katie,

I forwarded a text to Matt responding to a text he sent to me telling me he was coming to my event but only buying one ticket. And oh by the way my campaign, won't get the check till later, so we won't have it for the filing deadline of Jan. 31.

It is critical for my viability in eyes of the politucal world to have money in the bank and have it early. City Councilman Doug Shield's wife, Bridgit, is making calls to the energized moratoriom crowd for Mark Flaherty by telling them that Mark Flaherty will support a moratorium. The next Chief Executive of Allegheny County will either be me or Mark Flaherty. If you want the leader of this region to be someone who is clueless about natural gas and your industry, continue to sit on your hands that is exactly what will happen. Only EQT, Mike Hillenbrand and Keith Mangini have remotely gotten behind me.

My campaign has gotten next to nothing from Range, next to nothing from CNX/Consol, next to nothing from Atlas, next to nothing from US Steel. And absolutely nothing from Chespapeake, Cabot, Talisman or anyone else.

I love going to the expensive "Captians of Industry" parties in New York City, but would rather have the "Captians" put their money behind a candidate who will promote the growth of industry. PIOGA has also done nothing. I need money and I need it fast. Its great to hear from Dave Spiegelmeyer about how wonderful I am for the industry, but what I really need from Dave is money. Not "I wish I could be at your event, but I'm out of town. Just know we're behind you." Well if you are, put your money where your mouth is and help fund this campaign. I love going to your wine and cheese receptions to hear what a great advocate I am for the natural gas industry, how as an CMU engineer I understand the benefits of natural gas for the environment, global warming, national security, jobs, regional growth, our trade deficit, etc. You have the courage to take a stand and stand up for what's right. Well if you like that, stand up for me now. Because if you don't I will be gone in a few months, and the voices you hear won't be your friends. Your kind words and "attaboys" won't win the race. How about if you take some of the money you spend on these receptions, or a party at the "W" and invest it in who is going to lead Western Pennsylvania over the next 4 years This is "The Race" The Chief Executive of Allegheny County is the most influential political office west of the Susquehana. He or she sets the agenda for all of Western Pennsylvania.It is more important than a state senate, state house, or even a congressional race. I hope you guys realize this before it is too late.

Rich

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