A recent intensification in protests against Williams Partners’ planned Atlantic Sunrise pipeline in Pennsylvania prompted a state senator to propose legislation aimed at limiting demonstrations.
Last month, Pennsylvania Republican Senator Scott Martin announced his intention to introduce legislation that would pass the costs of law enforcement responding to protests onto the demonstrators. Martin also helped introduce a different bill that would criminalize protests at natural gas facilities.
A DeSmog investigation has found, however, that Martin is intimately tied to an obscure group of lobbyists recently hired by Williams Partners.
State Legislators Against Pipeline Protestors
The Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Williams Partners plans to construct the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline through its subsidiary, Transco. The $3 billion 200-mile project, which would transport fracked gas from the state’s northern shales southward to the company’s interconnecting pipeline systems, received federal approval earlier this year but still requires several state permits.
Grassroots and citizen opposition to the pipeline, which has been ongoing since the project’s original proposal in 2014, has intensified in recent months. In February, activists built an encampment on the planned route near Conestoga in Lancaster county, which Scott Martin represents.
Led by the group Lancaster Against Pipelines, they signaled their willingness to engage in nonviolent direct action.
Yet in early May, a day after arranging a conference call between local first responders and North Dakota law enforcement officials who dealt with the Dakota Access pipeline protests, Senator Martin published a legislative memo detailing his plan to propose a bill penalizing protestors. The memo, which directly referenced the Dakota Access pipeline demonstrations, is aimed at “shielding taxpayers against the additional costs resulting from protests.” Martin is currently seeking cosponsors for his legislation.
Two weeks earlier, Martin was among a group of senators advancing a bill sponsored by Republican Senator Mike Regan seeking to essentially criminalize civil disobedience and other forms of demonstrations at critical infrastructure sites, including gas pipelines and facilities. According to the bill, those who “impede or inhibit” the operations of the facility will be charged with a felony, face imprisonment, and pay hefty fines.
Williams Hires Secretive Group with Ties to Sen. Martin
A recent disclosure by Transco to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) reveals that last year the company hired an entity generically called the Pennsylvania Advocacy Group LLC.
State corporate records reveal that Pennsylvania Advocacy Group LLC was created in 2014 by five lobbyists from two different firms: Alan Novak, Angela Leopold, and Dan Hayward from Novak Strategic Advisors, and David Feidt and Michael Musser from Community Networking Strategies LLC.
Novak, Leopold, Hayward, and Feidt are also long-time top Pennsylvania republican operatives. Musser runs a political action committee that supports politicians from both parties.
Although it does not have a website, state corporate records indicate that Community Networking Strategies is a subsidiary of the Harrisburg-based legal and lobbying firm McNees, Wallace & Nurick. While Community Networking Strategies is not officially registered as a lobbying firm in Pennsylvania, state disclosure records show that McNees, Wallace & Nurick is currently lobbying for several fossil fuel entities, including Gulf Oil Ltd, Industrial Energy Consumers of Pennsylvania, and Sunoco Logistics.
Scott Martin is closely tied to Community Networking Strategies. According to his state senate financial disclosures, Martin worked at Community Networking Strategies immediately before starting his tenure as legislator in January this year.
Disclosing a position of “vice president,” Martin described his professional activities in the company as “business development.” The address he provided on the disclosure matches McNees, Wallace & Nurick’s address for the firm’s Lancaster Pennsylvania branch.
Martin’s LinkedIn profile states that he worked for Community Networking Strategies between January 2016 and January 2017.
Community Networking Resources Fundraises for Senator Martin
Apart for its business lobbying, Community Networking Resources also engages in political campaigning. According to Pennsylvania campaign finance records, in recent years the company has provided political support and fundraising services – including for Scott Martin.
Michael Musser, whose two hats include Community Networking Resources and Pennsylvania Advocacy Group, runs a PAC called Better Government for PA. A review of the PAC’s records show that since 2008 it has contributed over $36,000 to Martin’s PAC, Friends of Scott Martin. At the same time, Friends of Scott Martin hired Musser’s Community Networking Resources on several occasions for fundraising services when Martin served as Lancaster County Commissioner.
Lobbyist David Feidt, also of both Community Networking Resources and Pennsylvania Advocacy Group, is registered as the treasurer of Better Government for PA PAC.
By contracting with Pennsylvania Advocacy Group, Transco can potentially benefit from its deep ties to the state’s GOP. From the Novak Strategic Advisors side of the firm, Alan Novak is former chairperson of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, while Dan Hayward served as the party’s Executive Director. Angela Leopold served in the past in the Republican State Committee of Pennsylvania.
From the Community Networking Resources side, David Feidt currently serves as chairperson of the Dauphin County Republican Committee. Feidt’s twitter account continuously promotes the use of natural gas, including support for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline.
In a conversation with DeSmog, Michael Musser confirmed that Pennsylvania Advocacy Group was formed jointly by the firms Community Networking Resources and Novak Strategic Advisors, but said his involvement in the company is minimal. He referred DeSmog to Dan Hayward from Novak Startegic Advisors. Hayward did not reply to several requests for comment. A spokesperson for Transco did not provide comment either.
Senator Martin denies his previous work for Community Networking Resources had any effect on his legislative efforts concerning pipeline protests. In an email to DeSmog, Martin responded to a series of questions:
Have you ever provided work for Transco as part of Pennsylvania Advocacy Group and/or in any other capacity?
“I have never provided work for Transco in any capacity and haven't done work for Pennsylvania Advocacy Group.”
As senator, were you ever contacted by employees of Pennsylvania Advocacy Group and/or Community Networking Resources and/or Novak Strategic Advisors in relation to Transco's gas projects?
“As Senator, I was never contacted by these groups in relation to Transco's gas projects.”
Did your ties to Community Networking Resources have any effect on your recent legislative efforts related to pipeline protesting?
“No, Community Networking Resources had no effect or involvement on my protestor legislation being worked on. I started that initiative to try to be proactive in our community having seen the aftermath and costs of the NDAPL protests. Having been heavily involved with Emergency Management as a commissioner and concerned about costs and impacts on our community is what motivated me to look at this legislation.”
Do you currently receive any compensation from Community Networking Resources and/or its parent firm, McNees, Wallace & Nurick?
“I receive no compensation from any source except for my job as State Senator.”
Can you describe your relationship with Mike Musser of Community Networking Resources? According to state campaign finance records, Musser's PAC contributed to your PAC in the past, while Community Networking Resources provided political consulting and fundraising for your PAC.
“Mike helped organize my annual fundraisers throughout my time as county commissioner. I was employed by CNR [Community Networking Resources] for a year after I left being a county commissioner, before starting with the Senate.”
Image credit: Atlantic Sunrise pipeline map courtesy of Williams, via NPR StateImpact