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By Abby Smith
Fossil fuel companies and utilities are quietly throwing their weight behind Republican Mike DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general, in the race to replace term-limited Gov. John Kasich (R).
DeWine, who represented Ohio in the Senate from 1995 to 2007 and the House from 1983 to 1991, has brought in far more from fossil fuel and utility companies than his primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. The contributions signal the industries broadly see him as an ally, even though energy issues haven’t gotten much airtime in the bitter fight for the Republican nomination.
The state’s attorney general since 2010, DeWine is favored to win the May 8 primary, but Taylor, who has run farther to the right of DeWine on issues such as health care, could win in an upset, Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told Bloomberg Environment.
Kondik said DeWine is running as a more traditional Republican.
“He would be a very clear heir to Kasich,” said Kondik, who has written a book on Ohio politics. “DeWine is the broad favorite of the so-called party establishment. The business community is much more supportive of DeWine.”
Energy and environment issues haven’t come to the forefront of Ohio’s gubernatorial race so far, Kondik said, particularly on the Republican side. Neither DeWine nor Taylor’s campaign sites feature a section describing their stances on energy issues.
Nonetheless, major fossil fuel and utility companies are putting their money behind DeWine.
For example, in the first quarter of 2018, DeWine raised more than $75,000 from fossil fuel and utility interests, according to a Bloomberg Environment review of the campaign’s April 26 finance filing. The attorney general raised $1.7 million total that quarter.
Taylor, by contrast, brought in just under $10,000 from the sectors in the first quarter of 2018, her campaign’s April 26 filing shows. She raised just over $400,000 total in that quarter—though she also threw $3 million of her own money in the pot.
Contributors to DeWine include several large utilities based out-of-state—Richmond, Va.-based Dominion Energy; Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy; Merrillville, Ind.-based NiSource Inc.; and Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corp.
Coal mining giant Murray Energy, headquartered in St. Clairsville, Ohio, gave more than $12,000 to DeWine in 2017, according to the campaign’s annual filing from January.
Taylor brought in $500 from the Findlay, Ohio-based Marathon Petroleum Corp., in the first quarter of 2018—even though several executives from the company gave to DeWine’s campaign in the same quarter. Taylor also racked up individual contributions from executives of several Ohio based companies including Artex Oil Co., Penn-Ohio Coal Co., and Summit Petroleum Inc.
In addition, FirstEnergy Corp., the large Akron, Ohio-based utility, gave more than $12,000 to Taylor in 2017, her January annual filing shows.
Neither DeWine nor Taylor’s campaign responded to requests for comment from Bloomberg Environment. As a senator, DeWine sought to apply U.S. antitrust laws and sanctions to OPEC nations found to manipulate world oil markets.
Fewer energy company dollars are finding their way to the Democratic candidates in the race.
Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the Obama administration, is considered the favorite to nab the Democratic nomination in the May 8 primary. He faces a challenge from another well-known Ohio figure: Dennis Kucinich, the former congressman and two-time presidential candidate.
Kucinich is running farther to the left than Cordray on many issues, including energy and environment. In his first major policy announcement as a candidate, Kucinich pledged to place a moratorium on fracking in the state.
“He was the only politician from either side that actually seemed to be curious about the topic,” Ted Auch, Great Lakes program director and lead researcher for the nonprofit FracTracker Alliance, told Bloomberg Environment.
Auch, who is based in Ohio and helped Kucinich with his January 25 policy statement on fracking, said Kucinich is also receptive to concerns about the amount of water fracking operations use and the waste they leave behind.
There are about 2,500 oil and gas injection wells in Ohio, according to Auch.
“The moratorium gets at the heart of it,” he said, though adding that enacting such a policy could be politically difficult. “You need to pump the brakes. All the data points to an industry that’s gotten out of control.”
Neither Cordray nor Kucinich’s campaign responded to a request for comment from Bloomberg Environment.
Nonetheless, Auch expects fracking issues to get little, if any, airtime in the general election if Kucinich doesn’t advance.
Cordray has outlined a strong stance on renewable energy, including a pledge to double the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency targets by 2025. Cordray reportedly told an audience in March that he opposes a fracking ban.
A third Democratic candidate, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, is calling for reasonable regulation and greater transparency in fracking operations, while noting “drilling is a reality” in the state.
If both Cordray and DeWine win their party’s nominations, they’ll face off in their second statewide competition. The two battled for the state’s attorney general slot in 2010, when DeWine edged Cordray with 47.5 percent of the vote.
Kondik, of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, said the gubernatorial contest is a big test for the Democratic Party in a state that has been moving to the right. President Donald Trump won the state by eight percentage points in 2016.
“It’s put up or shut up time for Democrats in Ohio,” Kondik said.
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