COLUMBUS -- A watchdog group is questioning effectiveness the state's lobbying disclosures, following an influx of campaign contributions from oil and gas interests over the past two years.
Common Cause Ohio says existing lobbyist reports do not reflect what firms are really spending to shape state policy, particularly laws related to horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
"People living with fracking in their communities wonder why the state is moving so quickly, and a big reason is the lobbying blitz by the industry," Common Cause's Catherine Turcer, said in a released statement. "A full and fair debate about this issue depends on giving people a better look at how and why fracking interests have been so successful in Ohio."
Among other findings, Common Cause noted that oil and gas industry lobbyists reported $43,000 in spending in Ohio in 2011 and '12, compared to $12.7 million reported in Pennsylvania, where they are required to report how much compensation they receive from clients.
Common Cause also found that fracking interests pumped upward of $1.8 million into lawmaker and political party campaign coffers.
Rep. Dave Hall (R-Millersburg), who serves as chairman of the House agriculture committee, outpaced other office-holders, with $164,665 in campaign contributions.
House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R-Medina) was second, with $137,893, followed by Gov. John Kasich with $101,065.
Top donors included Ariel Corp. ($246,810), the Ohio Oil and Gas Association ($244,187) and Chesapeake Energy ($196,550).
"... Why would anyone be giving in this significant way?" Turcer said. "How does it impact policy?"
But Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, said it should come as no surprise that his trade group is supporting campaigns of office-holders and candidates that support the industry.
"We obey every lobbying law out there," he said.
"We fully report on time, always on time. We report all of our activity that we do politically where dollars are spent, as required by law."
He added, "We engage in the political process. That is our right. We speak to the political process. That is our right. And we stand proudly behind it."
Hall said campaign contributions do not sway how he votes on issues or what bills he moves through the agriculture committee.
"I vote on, is a bill a sound bill? Does it move Ohio forward? Is it creating jobs?" he said. "You look at some of the things we've done. I allow everyone to have a say. I have that reputation as a chairman to do that. [Campaign contributions] are not swaying me one way or the other."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.