Aubrey 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.
OpenSecrets.org 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 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. OpenSecrets.org 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 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.