Though both major party gubernatorial candidates have ties to the energy industry and are vocal proponents of coal, gas and oil production, the industry is betting its money on Republican candidate Mark Gordon.
Fossil-fuel affiliated PACs gave Gordon $37,500, while Throne received only $3,500 in direct energy-industry largesse, according to a WyoFile analysis of pre-general election campaign finance reports filed with the Wyoming Secretary of State.
Neither constitutional party Candidate Rex Rammell nor Libertarian candidate Lawrence Struempf reported any PAC donations.
For both Gordon and Throne, the PAC donations are just fractions of war chests fueled by individual donations, contributions from their political parties and in Gordon’s case, significant self-funding. Gordon has raised $618,295 since the primary ended, with $200,000 of that coming in a loan from his wife Jennie Gordon. Throne has raised $137,755, but carried $210,088 over from her largely uncompetitive primary race.
Gordon carried over $194,838 from the heated Republican primary, where he spent around $2 million to secure the nomination.
Two friends of industry
Gordon, who is currently Wyoming’s State Treasurer, has been dogged by opponents throughout the campaign for his past associations as a rancher with environmental groups like The Nature Conservancy and the Sierra Club. Such groups challenge fossil fuel development and thus harm Wyoming, Gordon’s opponents argued.
But Gordon also worked for the Apache Oil Company, which started in northeastern Wyoming. He’s touted his support for coal mining and oil and gas development throughout the campaign, and there appears to be little question his administration would remain friendly to the industries that fill Wyoming’s coffers. In August, after San Francisco-based Bank of the West declared it was divesting from aspects of the fossil fuel industry, Gordon’s campaign issued a press release decrying the move and saying the State Treasurer’s office would not pursue further business with the bank. Gordon has since walked that statement back — at an October meeting of the State Land and Investment Board, he suggested he could be open to continuing the state’s relationship with Bank of the West, according to a report in the Powell Tribune.
Throne, the former House Minority Floor Leader, also has an energy pedigree. Throne is a long-time energy lawyer in the state with her firm Throne Law Office, P.P.C. The firm’s client list includes Wyoming energy industry mainstays and Throne herself has represented some controversial companies, like DKRW, the promoters of a failed coal gasification plant in Carbon County and the North American Power Group, which pushed the Two Elk project outside Gillette.
“I’ve spent decades working as an energy attorney and I can say without hesitation that no candidate in the race has as much experience in the energy sector as I do,” she says on her website. Her energy platform includes the traditional Republican talking point of “fighting against federal overreach.”
In a testament to the lack of daylight between Throne and Gordon on energy issues, one Wyoming-based lobby for the industry simply split the difference. The Petroleum Association of Wyoming’s lobby gave $500 to each campaign.
But why did the largest industry companies pick Gordon?
Matt Herdman, Throne’s campaign manager, argued it was about who the campaign had targeted for donations.
“We’ve aggressively focused on small-dollar donations to power our campaign,” he wrote in an email. “The vast majority of contributions have been from individual donors chipping in what they can, rather than soliciting large checks from corporate PACs. Those individual contributions include plenty of people who work in the energy industry.”
While corporate PACs largely picked Gordon, organized labor went with Throne. The Wyoming AFL-CIO gave her $5,000 through a PAC, and the United Transportation Union, among other unions, gave her $1,000. Those unions represent those who work in Wyoming’s mines or on the coal cars rolling in and out of the state, Herdman argued. “Mary has a deep base of support from miners and other energy sector workers,” he wrote.
Kristin Walker, Gordon’s campaign spokesperson, said her candidate had earned industry support because of his policies. The treasurer had traveled to Washington state to argue for coal ports that could help Wyoming mines, and “allowed for development on his [ranch] property of coalbed methane, oil and gas,” Walker wrote. “He’s supported and fought for projects to advance technologies that will protect and expand Wyoming’s energy industry including the Wyoming Integrated Test Center and Atlas Carbon.”
That track record paid off in industry support, she argued.
“Mark’s honored to have the endorsement of the Wyoming Mining Association and the backing of so many Wyoming energy industry leaders,” Walker wrote. “They know that as Governor, Mark will continue to work tirelessly to protect and promote Wyoming’s energy industry long into the future.”
Though the Wyoming Mining Association endorsed Gordon, executive director Travis Deti said he certainly didn’t fear a Throne governorship. “In her time in the state Legislature she has been a friend and an advocate of the industry,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate in this whole campaign that all [primary and general] candidates have indicated support of the energy industry.”
His organization’s decision to endorse Gordon included a “look at the whole situation and the makeup of the Wyoming voters,” Deti said. “We just feel that [Gordon] is in the best position to lead Wyoming forward.”
Industry may just be betting Gordon has a clearer path to victory. Though there has been little public polling since the primary election ended, Wyoming remains a Republican state and Throne has faced an uphill battle all campaign. Still, her supporters like to remind doubters that former Gov. Dave Freudenthal, the last Democrat to win the governor’s mansion, was an energy industry lawyer as well.
The political environment is likely more polarized today than during Freudenthal’s race, however. Throne is nowhere near the national Democratic party’s stance on fossil fuels — she testified against former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan in March, according to a report in the Casper Star Tribune. But Deti noted her party affiliation may still hurt her in the eyes of industry.
“When you look at the national lay of the land and you have one particular political party that is frankly very anti coal, anti energy,” Deti said, “you have to take that into account.”
Industry PACs largely stayed out of the hotly contested Republican primary and entered the money game for Gordon in the general election campaign. His former employer Apache’s PAC contributed $2,500 to Gordon’s campaign.
PACs for Peabody, Arch Coal and Cloud Peak Energy gave money from the coal mining side of the industry. Anadarko, Devon Energy, Chesapeake Energy, Exxon Mobile and British Petroleum PACs all joined Apache from the oil-and-gas side. PACs for Basin Electric and Rocky Mountain Power brought utility companies into Gordon’s camp. The Wyoming Rural Electrical Association PAC gave Gordon $1,000 as well.
Individual state-level mining and energy-industry players cut checks for the Republican as well.
Apache’s founder, Raymond Plank, gave $2,500.
Randall Atkins, CEO of Ramaco Carbon in Sheridan, gave the candidate $2,000. Atkins’ company is pushing a proposed mine outside Ranchester — its initial mine permit application was rejected by the state’s Environmental Quality Board last fall, but has now been resubmitted. Though initially the mine was proposed for traditional coal sales to utility companies, Ramaco Carbon now says it will develop new uses for the black ore at a proposed nearby resource center.
An Oct. 24 press release for the company touted “coal, too valuable to burn” as a corporate mantra and described the company as a “leading force in the growing carbon tech industry.”
Value-added coal products have been a stump favorite this campaign season, including for Gordon who has touted his office’s work securing a $15 million state loan for Atlas Carbon, a carbon technology business located outside Gillette.
Unlike Atlas, however, Ramaco’s press release stressed that “Ramaco Carbon requires no taxpayer or economic development funds from Wyoming.”
Nick Agopian, a lobbyist for Devon Energy, gave Gordon a total of $2,500 in three donations. The Oklahoma-based natural gas giant’s PAC, called DECPAC, gave Gordon $5,000.
Randall Luthi, a former speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives, gave Gordon $2,500. Luthi has had a long career in both government and the energy industry and served as director of the Minerals Management Service, a branch of the Department of Interior, from 2007 to 2009. He left the agency to become director of the National Ocean Industry Association, a trade group for the offshore drilling companies the Minerals Management Service regulates. Today, he also serves on a committee convened by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to reexamine mineral royalty policies.
Throne’s biggest energy industry support came from Williams Companies, Inc., an oil and gas group based in Washington, D.C. The company’s PAC donated $3,500 to her effort. A PAC associated with the BNSF Railroad Company gave her $3,000.
Correction: This story has been updated to note that State Treasurer Mark Gordon’s has changed his position on the Bank of the West since his August announcement that the state would not pursue further business with the bank. This story has also been updated to correct the amount Gordon spent during the Republican gubernatorial primary — it was around $2 million, not nearly $4 million as was originally reported. -Ed.