Frack Sand Industry Support Spikes With Mines

Natural gas, sand mining contributions grow 21-fold in five years

May 21, 2013

Madison – Campaign contributions from the frack sand mining and natural gas industries ballooned 2,100 percent in six years and mirror the spike in mines and processing operations that now pepper northern Wisconsin, a Democracy Campaign review found.

The natural gas industry, which uses the sand for hydraulic drilling to reach deep deposits of crude oil and natural gas, and frack sand mining and processing operations have contributed $757,894 since 2007 to candidates for statewide office and the legislature. The industries’ contributions have grown (see Bar Chart) from $18,762 in 2007 when there were only five active frack sand mines in Wisconsin to $413,642 in 2012.  The state says there are now about 170 mines and processing plants.

Individual and PAC Contributions from Frack Sand Mining and Natural Gas Industries

Viewed separately, campaign contributions from both industries surged between 2007 and 2012 (see Table 1). Contributions from natural gas interests increased from $15,512 in 2007 to $365,868 in 2012 and from $3,250 in 2007 to $47,774 in 2012 from sand mining interests.

Table 1
Annual Contributions To Legislative And Statewide Candidates
From Natural Gas and Sand Mining Interests

Year Natural Gas Sand Mining Total
2007 $15,512 $3,250 $18,762
2008 $23,500 $9,650 $33,150
2009 $32,875 $4,700 $37,575
2010 $71,788 $16,550 $88,338
2011 $154,152 $12,275 $166,427
2012 $365,868 $47,774 $413,642
Totals $663,695 $94,199 $757,894

The leading recipient of contributions from the two industries was Republican Governor Scott Walker who accepted $520,266 during the six-year period. Much of the sand mining industry’s growth in Wisconsin has occurred since Walker was elected in 2010.

After Walker, 23 candidates and the four Senate and Assembly Republican and Democratic legislative fundraising committees received a total of $2,000 or more (see Table 2) from sand mining and natural gas interests from 2007 through 2012. Most of the top recipients were incumbents and challengers involved in the 2011 and 2012 recall races, candidates for statewide office and candidates in targeted legislative seats.

Other top recipients include Republican Senator Alberta Darling of River Hills who accepted $35,100. Darling, who is co-chair of the legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, won her 2011 recall challenge which cost $10 million – the most expensive legislative campaign in Wisconsin history – thanks to wealthy special interests like these. GOP Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who also faced a recall challenge with Walker in 2012, received $16,950; and former Republican Senator Dan Kapanke of La Crosse who lost his 2011 recall contest accepted $8,525.

Most of the contributions from natural gas and sand mining interests flowed to Republicans legislative and statewide candidates during the six-year period. One hundred Republican candidates and committees received $710,790 and 44 Democratic candidates and committees received $47,104. Excluding Republican and Democratic candidates for statewide office, the 97 Republican legislative candidates and fundraising committees received four times more contributions from the industries than the 42 Democratic legislative candidates and fundraising committees – $154,974 versus $36,739.

The governor and GOP-controlled legislature have said they do not intend to change state air and water pollutions laws despite reports of complaints, widespread noncompliance with regulations and state permit violations even as the frack sand boom continues.

Environmental groups and property owners in and around communities throughout northern Wisconsin where the mines have sprung up are concerned about health problems caused by the fine silica sand on air and water quality, declining property values and noise and congestion from a surge in truck and rail transportation to deliver the sand to North Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and other states for natural gas extraction.

The Department of Natural Resources cited nearly a fifth of the frack sand mines and processing operations last year for environmental violations, and issued numerous noncompliance letters, which warn operators to fix problems before they become violations, according to a media report in March.

The DNR referred two frack sand mine violations that caused significant environmental damage to the Department of Justice which is headed by Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen who accepted $18,600 in campaign contributions from natural gas and sand mining interests. In one case, a heavy rainstorm liquefied a pile of silt and mud and sent it crashing through a home after the DNR warned the company about waste leaking from its operations, according to media reports.

Walker has proposed spending $223,000 and reassigning two positions in the Department of Natural Resources to monitor sand mining operations in his 2013-15 state budget being considered by the legislature.

In addition to the governor’s plan, a Democratic legislator has introduced five proposals that would give counties and municipalities more local control over frack sand operations. The bills would prohibit frack sand operations within 2,500 feet of a residential area, allow counties to issue permits for frack sand exploration and require more advanced notice about the siting and permitting of frack sand operations, among other things.

But it appears unlikely any of the bills will become law because both houses of the legislature are comfortably controlled by Republicans and the proposals are opposed by the state’s largest business group, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, and other organizations representing the construction and road building industries.

Business, energy, natural resources, manufacturing, banking, transportation and other wealthy special interests represented by WMC and the other groups contributed $49.2 million to candidates for statewide office and the legislature from 2007 through 2012.

Table 2
Campaign Contributions* To Legislative And Statewide Candidates
From Natural Gas And Sand Mining Interests
2007 – 2012

Candidate Party Amount
Walker, Scott R $520,266
Darling, Alberta R $35,100
Van Hollen, JB R $18,600
Kleefisch, Rebecca R $16,950
Kapanke, Dan R $8,525
Committee to Elect a Republican Senate R $8,350
Harsdorf, Sheila R $7,750
Barrett, Tom D $6,365
Fitzgerald, Scott R $6,200
Olsen, Luther R $5,100
State Senate Democratic Committee D $4,737
Doyle, Jim D $4,000
Bernier, Kathy R $3,500
Republican Assembly Campaign Committee R $3,250
Moulton, Terry R $3,150
Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee D $3,000
Tiffany, Tom R $3,000
Gudex, Rick R $2,850
Huebsch, Mike R $2,750
Shilling, Jennifer D $2,650
Larson, Tom R $2,574
Suder, Scott R $2,550
Macco, John R $2,350
Krug, Scott R $2,300
Kapenga, Chris R $2,250
Nygren, John R $2,250
Petryk, Warren R $2,100
Holperin, Jim D $2,000

*Table shows candidates who received a total of $2,000 or more from the industries between 2007 and 2012.