Clear as Fracked Water

In case anyone missed the mini-fight for control of the PA Democratic Party that unfolded over the June 20th weekend, here’s a recap.

Gov. Corbett’s campaign war chest is full of gas industry contributions, but  Democratic challenger, Tom Wolf‘s campaign received some, too.  On June 16, Karen Feridun, founder of Berks Gas Truth, pointed out the hypocrisy of Jim Burn‘s, Chairman of the Democratic State Committee, denouncement of  Corbett for accepting campaign contributions from oil & gas industry when Wolf’s campaign received over $270,000 from people associated with that industry.  A coalition of anti-fracking groups led by Food & Water Watch Fund has suggested the contributions to the Democratic candidate should be returned to avoid the appearance of impropriety.  No word yet on how this might be resolved.
PA Democratic Party Chair, Jim Burn. Photo: PADems.com

Leadership of the Democratic Committee is determined after the primary elections. Normally, the Democratic nominee chooses the leadership of the party.  Tom Wolf nominated Katie McGinty but Jim Burn, the current Chairman, refused to step aside.  In an unprecedented step and in order to avoid in-fighting, Wolf and the state’s Democratic House of Representatives and Senate campaign committees, created a new PAC that is separate from the party organization.  The new PAC, headed by McGinty, is called “Campaign for a Fresh Start” and will control fund-raising. This news was announced on or about June 19th.

On June 20, Ed Rendell sharply criticized the Democratic State Committee (DSC) and Burn for not bowing to Wolf’s choice. On Saturday, June 21, Burn was re-elected as chairman of the DSC.  Burn gave a whole-hearted rally, supporting Tom Wolf, but Wolf did not attend the event.  As a result of the creation of the new PAC, the DSC’s role in the November gubernatorial and congressional elections will be greatly diminished; nonetheless, it has vowed to work cooperatively to get Democrats elected and re-elected.
So what does this mean for those of us who think fracking is unsafe and should be banned?  Perhaps time will clear the muddy waters but, for now, there are just a lot of unanswered questions.
In June of last year, the PA Democratic Caucus voted  115-81 to support a moratorium on fracking and the PA Democratic Party so resolved, yet incomprehensibly, all the Democratic candidates who ran in the primary supported fracking!  Tom Wolf supports a severance tax and more oversight for the industry but does not support a ban.  Does the June 19-21 schism within the party have to do with this issue?  Is the schism related to the odious acceptance of campaign contributions from oil & gas interests?
Ed Rendell was the Governor when fracking in PA began and helped it gain a foothold. McGinty and Wolf were both in Rendell’s cabinet;  McGinty was the head of the Dept. of Environmental Resources until 2008 and Wolf was the head of the Dept of Revenue for a year. Since leaving public office, Rendell went back to work at Ballard Spahr, a Philadelphia law firm that provides legal services to hydraulic fracturing industry clients.  In 2011, Rendell became an Operating Partner in Element Partners that invests in cleantech and companies that support hydraulic fracturing such as 212 Resources, Detechtion, and Environmental Drilling Solutions. Since Rendell has ties to the fracking industry, does his criticism of Burn and support of McGinty and Wolf shed light on this matter?
Polls show that a majority of Pennsylvanians want fracking banned.  Many Democrats hope to influence Wolf’s policies on fracking before November, by working within the party.  Is this hope a pipe dream now? Is the new PAC a way for Wolf to assert his independence from the party’s rank and file?
Finally, and most importantly, will the new “Campaign for a Fresh Start” (which now controls campaign contributions for all Democratic congressional candidates and Tom Wolf) accept corrupting money from oil & gas?  When this question is answered, everything will become crystal clear.
The only gubernatorial candidate who supports a ban on fracking is Green Party candidate, Paul Glover.   Remember this in November and vote like your drinking water depends on it.
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