By John Finnerty
While Gov. Tom Corbett was lobbying for transportation funding last year, road builders seemed to be acknowledging his efforts with contributions to his re-election fund.
Campaign finance records show Corbett received donations from 32 executives in the road building industry last year totaling $123,000.
That pales compared to the support the governor enjoys from the drilling industry, whose executives gave $700,000 to his campaign in 2013.
Combined the two industries accounted for one of every eight dollars donated to Corbett’s campaign in 2013. In all, Corbett’s campaign raised $6.8 million last year.
Contributions from road-builders included those from A. Ross Myers, chief executive officer of American Infrastructure, a large construction company based in Worcester. He gave the Corbett campaign $25,000 in the middle of the year, then added a $1,000 donation on Nov. 19.
It was the same day the House passed a transportation funding package that pays for billions of dollars worth of projects by raising a cap on the wholesale tax on gas, as well as a slew of fees. Corbett’s $1.2 billion transportation budget for 2014-15 includes $550 million in road and bridge spending.
Robert Kinsley, owner of Kinsley Construction in York, gave Corbett $1,000 before the transportation vote, and another $20,000 after the spending plan became law.
Transportation funding was the dominant political issue at the Capitol in 2013, and gas drilling is likely to be a hot-button issue in 2014. The governor has proposed expanded drilling activity in state forests, a move he says could raise $75 million for the state. He also steadfastly opposes any effort to add a severance tax on drilling — a move supported by every Democrat who is seeking to challenge him for governor this fall.
Corbett’s donors from the drilling industry included Lance Shaner, a Centre County entrepreneur whose businesses serve the industry, who made a $100,000 donation. An executive with Otis Eastern Services, a New York-based pipeline building company, gave Corbett $26,000. And Richard J. Corman, owner of RJ Corman, a Kentucky railroad that reaches into Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region, gave Corbett $50,000.
Billy Pitman, a spokesman for the Corbett campaign, said donations from the gas and road-building industries represent a fraction of last year’s contributions. “At the end of the day, a lot of people are investing in the governor’s re-election,” he said.
The governor’s policies on natural gas development have helped the state as a whole, Pitman said. “Everyone benefits from cheap natural gas.”
He added that Corbett’s transportation funding plan was approved with bipartisan support in the Legislature after months of debate.
And, in many cases, donors from the road-building industry previously contributed to Corbett, when he ran for governor in 2010, campaign finance records show. For example, Kinsley gave Corbett $6,500 in cash donations, and the governor’s campaign logged a $6,291 in-kind donation from Kinsley for air transportation.
Corbett turned to some of those industry connections when he appointed a transportation funding advisory commission shortly after taking office. The group ultimately suggested that the state spend $3.5 billion to fix its crumbling infrastructure.
Myers and Kinsley were among 31 stakeholders appointed to the commission, as was Tom Caramanico, chief executive officer of engineering firm McCormick Taylor.
McCormick Taylor executives gave Corbett $53,500 in donations in 2010. Last year, Caramanico donated $6,000 to the governor’s campaign while other executives with the company chipped in another $10,000.
McCormick Taylor is the company that employed Barry Schoch before Corbett appointed him to be PennDOT secretary.
Schoch “was a lobbyist for the highway industry,” said Bob Guzzardi, a conservative businessman from southeastern Pennsylvania who is circulating petitions to get on the ballot to challenge Corbett in a Republican primary.
“The whole (transportation funding plan) was top-down,” said Guzzardi. “The person who was left out was the forgotten taxpayer.”
Advocates for campaign finance reform said the role of money in politics looms larger in Pennsylvania than most states because it is one of 11 states with no limits on how much donors can give to candidates.
In Delaware, by contrast, donors cannot give more than $1,200 to a candidate per election, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In New Jersey, the cap is $6,400 for governor and $2,600 for other offices. In Ohio, the maximum donation per candidate is $12,155.
Donors in federal elections are only allowed up to $2,600 in direct contributions to a candidate per election, according to the Federal Elections Commission.
“This is an investment in access to power,” said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause of Pennsylvania. “(Donors) are not stupid. If this spending didn’t work, it would stop.”
Donations to the Corbett campaign in 2013 from Crawford County residents (Meadville residents unless otherwise noted)
Keith Klinger (Titusville): $150
David Hotchkiss: $60
William DeArment: $750
Frank Byham: $250
Gerald Munson: $100
Leona Vukmer (Saegertown): $100
JK Van Dervort: $100
Edward Weiss: $100
Christine Greig (Linesville): $3,500
James Duratz: $100
Russell Schetroma: $2,500
Roger Willis: $500
Source: Year-end report submitted by Corbett for Governor
John Finnerty reports from the CNHI Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.