McClendon, Wife Generous GOP Donors

By Russ Choma

Chesapeake_Energy_4-Color_Logo.jpgAubrey McClendon, the embattled CEO of Chesapeake Energy who’s embroiled in a corporate governance (controversy), has worked to cultivate friends here in Washington. He may need them. data shows that in the current election cycle, McClendon has personally made more than $107,900 in contributions to political campaigns and party committees. His wife, Kathleen, has given nearly $66,000 on top of that.

McClendon is largely credited with growing Chesapeake into the second-largest natural gas company in the United States. Besides being one of the best paid CEOs in America (in 2008 he was the highest-paid, taking home $112 million), McClendon was allowed to take a personal stake in the oil and gas wells his company drilled, according to recent reports.
But McClendon was recently stripped of his title as Chesapeake’s chairman after further revelations that he borrowed $1.4 billion from a private equity group that was also buying assets from Chesapeake, and that he was operating a hedge fund trading on oil and gas futures (a market that Chesapeake’s actions regularly effect). Critics also accuse McClendon of having too many outside interests — besides his hedge fund, he personally owns a 19 percent stake in the Oklahoma Thunder basketball team, several television stations, a cancer treatment center and a roadside attraction that sells 200 brands of soda.
The McLendons have concentrated their donations on top Republicans (in fact, the only Democrat to receive any money from the pair was West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who received $4,800). The couple has given $61,600 to the Republican National Committee, $55,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee and $10,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
They have also given a combined $10,000 to Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has oversight over issues central to Chesapeake’s interests. And besides that, Upton is a first cousin of McClendon’s wife — and, according to data, an investor in Chesapeake: in 2010, he held a stake worth between $150,000 and $350,000.
The couple has been politically active for some time, but the contributions so far this cycle represent a new level of interest — in 2010, they gave $56,100, and in 2008, $92,200.
The McLendons can afford to be generous; Forbes estimated Aubrey’s net worth as north of $1.2 billion last year. But Chesapeake itself also has been something of a powerhouse in Washington. data shows that the company spent about $490,000 lobbying in the first three months of this year, and about $2 million in 2011.
Chesapeake lobbied Congress, naturally, but it also lobbied some of the same agencies that might now be looking at McClendon’s business transactions — such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
Chesapeake Energy’s company PAC has also been a major player on Capitol Hill. So far this year, the PAC has dished out over $848,000 — mostly to the campaigns of Republicans. The company has given the maximum allowable — $5,000 — to 18 members of the House of Representatives. It also gave $30,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee, and another $15,000 to Speaker of the House John Boehner’s leadership PAC.
The largest contribution by the company’s PAC, however, was $125,000 to Make Us Great Again, the super PAC that backed Rick Perry’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
The PAC’s presence in Washington has grown along with the company’s profile. It has already surpassed the amount it gave in the entire 2010 cycle — $758,541 — and more than doubled the $399,279 it gave in 2008. The PAC has also been raising significantly more than it’s spending, which means that despite the record amount it has given this election cycle, it’s still sitting on a war chest of $1.1 million.
While McClendon’s actions have infuriated some shareholders, it’s  not clear if he broke any rules. Regulators are  investigating. Depending on their findings, or if McClendon’s activities ignite a new furor over CEO compensation and corporate  governance, his investments in Washington could pay some important dividends.

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