PA State Rep. Jesse White
After the Citizens United Supreme Court case, loud advocates protested that corporations will have exessive influence in our politics. But as we saw on election night, campaigns with nearly unlimited budgets still can not win if voters don’t approve of the candidates.
However, there is something pernicious about campaign donations, that politicans often avoid, as it involves their own fundraising practices.
This case out of Pennslyvania is a fascinating, but not unique example of how fundraising often happens:
An ardent critic of the impact of gas drilling, state Rep. Jesse White of Washington County once enjoyed a cozy relationship with Range Resources Inc. — asking for a corporate plane ride to a Super Bowl and complaining the driller didn’t give him enough campaign money, emails between the lawmaker and company show.
In late 2011, White and Range executives in Cecil began battling publicly over Marcellus shale gas drilling. Just last week, Range canceled a private meeting with Cecil officials when White said he would attend.
Range says it wants to expose a lawmaker who tried to strong-arm the company and continues to challenge its Pennsylvania business dealings. This month, White urged several agencies to investigate the state’s handling of contamination tests at a Range drill site.
White, 34, says the company is organizing a smear campaign against him because he tries to protect constituents in land-control disputes. He suggests Range took his emails out of context or altered them, but would not produce any emails from his archive to prove that. Range stands by the accuracy of the emails it released.
“Just found out I had a few tickets to the game and am looking at our travel arrangements,” White wrote on Jan. 28, 2011, to Range Chief Operating Officer Ray Walker, in emails Range gave the Tribune-Review. “If the Range plane was heading down, any chance we could stowaway in the cargo hold?”
The Steelers lost that 2011 Super Bowl in Arlington, Texas, to the Green Bay Packers. White, a Democrat elected in 2006, did not travel with Range. He told the Trib he requested the ride as “a joke” and said he did nothing illegal or hypocritical in seeking campaign donations from Range. He said Range earlier invited him to its Super Bowl barbecue in Texas.
White’s correspondence includes a March 2010 email about a May fundraiser Range was organizing for him. White wanted Autumn Haines, his former district aide who then worked for Range, to oversee the event planning.
His email said he and Haines had “a relationship” at the time. Range said involving her in the fundraiser would be a conflict of interest. White wrote: “Understood — I just don’t want to get shortchanged, especially because I am going to catch (expletive) no matter what. I don’t have the money some of my colleagues do.”
Haines, 28, who works in Strattanville, Clarion County, declined comment.
“That’s a past chapter in my life,” she said.
White insists he did nothing illegal in pursuing fundraising help nearly three years ago.
Range spent $1,000 on White’s fundraiser. When the event’s contributions totaled less than $5,000, counting the Range money, White emailed Range on June 17, 2010: “This was considerably short of the intended target and to be perfectly blunt, I attest the low turnout to a somewhat substandard effort in working your vendor list.”
Politics is a unique industry because a politican is supposed to be able accept $10,000 while the donor is not to expect anything in return.
That’s not to say all campaign donations are corrupt. Plenty of donors give out of ideological reasons, or a general support of a candidate.
But too often, politicans feel the pressure to raise more money, and start selling legislation and votes. Just most of them aren’t stupid enough to write it down.
The political process will never be run by angels. It should be a reminder that since it is impossible to take these sort of incentives out of government, it is essential to keep government as limited and small as possible.