Last week in Washington DC, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s political dark money group met with corporate funders at the DC headquarters of the American Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA). ANGA is the lead lobby group for the fracking and shale industry, with a budget of $69 million in 2012. O’Malley’s group is called newDEAL, which describes itself as a “national network searching the country for state and local elected leaders who are pro-growth progressives to help them share their innovative ideas.” I found out about the meeting when I was forwarded an invitation. When I replied to a RSVP, I was initially sent a welcoming “see ya there” from Lauren Wessler, the organizer for the event. Wessler works for Helen Milby, who runs HM&CO, a fundraising group that connects corporations with legislators. Her work has been described as “To communicate behind the scenes with power brokers in government and in the corporate world, and create events so that they can come together to make exchanges of money and influence.” O’Malley created newDEAL with Alaska Senator Mark Begich, and the group is co-chaired by democratic politicians Cory Booker, and CO Governor John Hickenlooper. They bill themselves as “pro-growth” democrats, but an expose by Lee Fang in Vice revealed that newDEAL was funded by some of the largest corporations in the US, the same corporations that provide the majority of funding to republican politicians. newDEAL funders include Comcast, Fluor, Merck, Microsoft, New York Life, Pfizer, Qualcomm, Verizon, Wal-Mart, the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, among others, including, of course, the host of Tuesday's event, ANGA. Given the corporate connection, the newDEAL is an attempt to grow O’Malley and company’s political war chests with corporate dollars, more “deal” than “new.” A few hours after receiving confirmation of my RSVP, another email buzzed into my inbox from Lauren. Apparently she had made a mistake. “The room seats less people than I originally thought…So sorry,” read her retraction of my RSVP. Sounds fishy, but OK. Maybe there just isn’t enough space at the largest fracking lobbyists’ headquarters for a researcher from Greenpeace. But there are always those people who RSVP and don’t show, so I went to ANGA the day of the event, just in case they could squeeze me in. The O’Malley connection to ANGA is particularly interesting given the battle the gas industry is waging in his state. Fracking is still being studied in Maryland, and drillers have not yet started exploiting the shale that lies under parts of the state. Maryland is also home to Cove Point, a proposed Liquified Natural Gas export plant. The plant will be the 3rd LNG export plant fully permitted in the US according to most analysis. Cove Point was just conditionally approved by FERC, which just released an Environmental Impact Statement. FERC’s statement has been roundly criticized for missing key elements, such as climate impacts, community safety, marine impacts, and fracking.
Cove Point has been particularly controversial because it would be located in a populated, residential area on the coast of Maryland. Assistant fire chief for the area Mickey Shymansky resigned after calling attention to the fire department’s inability to control a disaster at the plant. So, what does O’Malley’s financial relationship with ANGA change about the future of fracking and gas exports in Maryland? Alas, we were unable to find out. When I arrived at ANGA’s headquarters I told them my name and showed them my RSVP. The front desk person gave me a leery eye, and within minutes a large man named Pablo came out of an elevator bank and walked up to me. “You have to leave the premises.” he said. Why? I asked “They said that if you come in we aren’t allowed to let you up” He said. “Who is they?” I asked. “You know who” he said. “America’s Natural Gas Alliance?” “Yes” Pablo said “But I have an RSVP, did they say my name specifically” “yes” he said. O’Malley and company plan on using newDEAL to fund campaigns of like minded politicians, basically creating a money laundering dark money pipeline from corporate interests to campaign coffers. As Ruth Marcus said in her Washington Post editorial last week:
Big money is troubling; secret money is toxic. Having millions of dollars from outside groups pumped into elections distorts the democratic process. Not knowing what interests are behind those millions magnifies that distortion.
The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that the 2012 election saw more than $250 million in political spending by nonprofit groups organized under 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code, up from $86 million in 2008 and $3 million in 2004. Wonder how many of those millions was from the shale industry, looking to open Maryland for drilling? Or Wal-Mart, trying to erode minimum wage? Or Wall Street making sure limits on risky banking will not be enforced?